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A New “Normal” for New Jersey Schools

Gavin received an award at a Board of Education ceremony held before the pandemic. West Orange Superintendent of Schools Scott Cascone is to Gavin’s right. 

Most students and teachers in New Jersey are weeks away from the start of the 2020-’21 school year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed nearly 170,000 lives in the United States alone, many schools are offering online learning only. Instead of returning to classrooms, students in my district and many others will receive instruction on Google Meet and other online platforms. 

With unemployment at a record high, more families than ever are struggling to put food on the table. I recently spoke with West Orange Superintendent of Schools Scott Cascone about the challenges our district has faced since the pandemic began. 

“There was an element of positive excitement on one level,” Cascone told me via Zoom. Members of the community came together to help people in need. Meals and technological devices were distributed, and food drives and clothing drives were held. 

“There was a great sense of pride with the way everyone came together,” Cascone said. 



As a student, I found it challenging to get the hang of the new routine when classes went online in March. For the faculty and staff, Cascone said, “The challenges were more of a logistical nature, including understanding which of our students did not have access to technology at home or wi-fi service.”

Many students struggled to keep up with assignments, so Friday became a catch-up day. This helped kids complete work they may have missed because of all of the disruptions to daily life.



Superintendent Cascone and a task force have been interpreting the state’s guidance on the road back to in-person instruction. “A world that we had hoped would have returned to normal continues to be anything but,” Cascone said.

In a district survey, nearly half of parents said that they did not think it was safe to send their children back to school in September. This led the district to decide on 100% virtual learning, with plans to offer in-person learning in phases starting in November.

Governor Phil Murphy will make the final decision on when it is safe to resume organized sports statewide. Until then, Cascone hopes that West Orange students can have band practice and participate in other activities outdoors.

At a recent virtual town hall, the superintendent said that such activities over the summer have been beneficial “for our kids, to be out on those practice fields, to be with their teammates after being sequestered for all those months, getting that physical activity.”


Photo courtesy of the author