CHERRY HILL, New Jersey (WPVI) -- After guidance from the county's health department, Cherry Hill Public Schools has announced students will be able to return to class in a hybrid model starting next week.
"We plan to welcome back Hybrid Learning students in Cohort A beginning Tuesday, November 17, and Hybrid Learning students in Cohort B beginning Wednesday, November 18," Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche said in a note to parents posted to the district's site on Wednesday.
He said Special Education students in Cohort A/B will return beginning Tuesday, November 17 and attend Tuesday-Friday each week.
Hybrid learning means students would have the option to go to school for two half-days a week. The hybrid learning plan was originally to start on Tuesday, but was postponed after three dozen new positive cases were reported in Cherry Hill.
The Camden County Department of Health had recommended the delay for Cherry Hill Public School.
"That being said, I would strongly recommend reconsidering opening your school district tomorrow until further notice. I would feel more comfortable opening with a better grasp on these cases," Casey Baker from the Department of Health wrote in an email dated Monday afternoon.
The positive cases were in children aged 7 to 18, Meloche said in a letter to parents, and included multiple schools in the district.
In his Wednesday note, Dr. Meloche called the delay "a disappointment not only for our families, but for our teachers, our administrators and me."
Parents Action News spoke with said they got the update on the delay from the superintendent about 14 hours before their kids were supposed to get on the bus to go to school.
Dr. Meloche said he sent the letter out Monday as soon as he found out.
"I believe children need to be in schools, but we have to listen to the recommendations of the medical professionals," said Dr. Meloche.
Then on Tuesday afternoon, Meloche received another email from the county health department.
Dr. Paschal Nwako, the County Health Officer & Public Health Coordinator, detailed how contact tracing the Cherry Hill cases has led to the ability for schools to reopen.
In the county's email, Nwako cited the New Jersey Department of Health COVID-19 Public Health Recommendations for Local Health Departments for K-12 Schools which calls for "a temporary closure may also be considered for 2-5 days to allow time for local health officials to gain a better understanding of the COVID-19 situation impacting the school and perform contact tracing."
Dr. Nwako added, "Over the weekend, we had an influx of new cases from Cherry Hill. The influx of new cases were investigated, and close contacts were identified. No links were found that would impact the district returning to a hybrid schedule."
Nwako said the previous day's email from his staff was "in good faith to look at the trends and determine where the influx of large cases was coming from and if they are linked."
"We found that the influx of cases are not connected, and the cases can be excluded from the school if the school district had resumed in-person instruction today," Nwako said.
Melcohe said like many Cherry Hill parents, the educators have been "on an emotional roller coaster with these directives."
"We all wish the path through this pandemic were predictable and easy to navigate. Our reality is quite the opposite," Meloche said.
The superintendent said there is a possibility they will receive guidance to once again delay the hybrid model if the community's health status changes again.
He said the district will remain in contact with the health department and relay any updates to the community as soon as possible should there be any changes in the plan.
"One thing that remains steady is our schools' and staff's preparedness and eagerness to welcome back our students. With patience and grace, focusing on what is best for children, we will continue to move forward," Melcohe said.
The superintendent reminded parents to screen their children every day and adhere to mitigation practices recommended by Governor Phil Murphy, the Camden County Department of Health, and the CDC.