EAST RUTHERFORD — As select school districts in New Jersey delay a return to in-person learning, or decide to remain remote through the end of the 2020 academic year, a one-school district in Bergen County continues its streak of not having to close the doors due to COVID-19.

Opened with a hybrid schedule in early September, and running fully in-person five days a week since Oct. 19, the Carlstadt-East Rutherford Regional School District "is still ticking," even with a few positive cases reported on a monthly basis, according to Superintendent Dario Sforza.

"Schools are safe places and we've proven that," Sforza told New Jersey 101.5. "With each case, we don't act compulsively."

To keep operations running as they have, Sforza said, planning had to begin before summer, when schools were forced to teach online.

"Once September hit, we had to deliver," he said.

By August, Sforza said, personal protective equipment and temperature scanners were in place at Henry P. Becton Regional High School. A consultant nurse and certified contact tracer, who had worked on COVID floors during the pandemic's initial surge, was hired by the district to help the determine whether positive cases required other students or staff to quarantine.

Inside, students must wear face coverings and remain 6 feet apart when possible, as they must do in all districts. An executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy permits students to opt for remote schooling rather than learning in person.

"Outside of school, there's a lot of COVID activity going on, but inside the school it's not happening," Sforza said. "Nobody can come to us and say you're doing something wrong when the evidence is not there. There's no epidemiologically linked school-based transmission of the virus."

The level of COVID-19 activity remains "high" in all regions of the state, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. Schools in any regions that move into the "very high" risk tier are encouraged to implement all-remote learning.

Remote learning has been extended by districts in large cities such as Newark and Jersey City. Hillside Public Schools will likely remain remote through the end of the school year, according to NJ.com.

Sforza said what's happening in his district can be replicated elsewhere, if "all parties" have the will to do so — it's one thing to mitigate virus spread, it's another to mitigate fear of the virus.

"We are charged with educating students in person, that is our duty and we're going to do everything possible to try to continue to sustain that," Sforza said, noting the district's efforts also paved the way for an undefeated championship football season.

According to Sforza, maintaining the routine kids have known for years is crucial for their mental health.

"As educators and school-based counselors, our role right now should be dictated purely by the expressed needs of our students and families," added Connor Wills, the district's mental health coordinator. "Our mental health system has never been stretched this thin so it's up to us as schools to be proactive in supporting our students and families for the duration of this pandemic. We do so by opening our doors with good common sense and all CDC/NJDOH guidelines in place."
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