Following an unprecedented year of pandemic-related challenges, the Diocese of Trenton’s school superintendent issued a letter to parents thanking them for their partnership and commending Catholic schools’ faculty and staff for their commitment and resiliency.  In his May 24 letter, Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt also announced that all parish and diocesan Catholic schools will return to full time in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 academic year.

With only a few exceptions, the schools of the Diocese offered in-person learning on a full day schedule for the past year, according to Dr. Schmidt. Remote learning was made available as needed in response to parents’ requests and health protocols where COVID-19 exposure was suspected. Citing the increased availability of COVID-19 vaccines for adults and older children, thereby reducing the risk of transmission of the virus, the Department of Catholic Schools has determined that full-time remote learning will not be necessary come September.

To read Dr. Schmidt's letter to parents in its entirety, click here.

“In-person learning allows all students to thrive in the dynamic environment of the classroom and allows teachers to more easily assess students’ needs and adapt instruction to meet them,” Dr. Schmidt wrote. “All students are important members of their school community, valued personally for the gifts that they share. While our teachers have done an outstanding job of inviting remote learners into the classroom, all students benefit from being a part of the full community in the classroom.”

Expressing thanks and gratitude for the commitment and care shown over the past school year, Dr. Schmidt wrote, “The Catholic schools and our school families have come a long way together this year,” he said. “Thank you for your trust in your child’s Catholic school and the unparalleled commitment of the principals, teachers and staff to ensure that all children in our schools get the high quality, faith-based education you expect.”

The remote learning and hybrid options that were made available to families the past nine months “lent themselves to student participation in all classroom activities,” Dr. Schmidt pointed out. “Catholic schools are communities of faith, committed to common values and principles that drive our actions. The successes achieved so far this year are a tangible example of our Catholic communities in action and a testament to what we can accomplish together.”

Simultaneously instructing in-person and online students, he acknowledged, was a huge undertaking for teachers this past year. “Concurrent teaching of this kind takes enormous preparation and elevated focus all day, every day,” Dr. Schmidt emphasized. “It has been exhausting for the teachers, but they have maintained their efforts because they believe deeply that it is their vocation to teach as Jesus did – to serve all students by meeting their specific needs.”

The concurrent teaching of in-person and remote students was taken on, he noted, “as an emergency solution to a crisis situation at the beginning of the school year. As an emergency solution, it will result in some long-term changes in practice, such as greater use of technology, overall.”

A growing body of evidence both nationally and globally, Dr. Schmidt noted, indicated that the precautions in place for the 2020-2021 academic year helped keep transmission of COVID-19 “relatively rare,” and diocesan schools helped to successfully mitigate the spread of the disease. “Almost all cases of COVID-19 that have impacted our schools originated outside of the school and did not spread to others inside the school,” he explained.

“All students enrolled for the 2021-2022 school year are expected to attend school in person,” he continued. “All schools will continue to implement measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 that are appropriate throughout the school year. Our schools will continue to partner with local health agencies to monitor the COVID-19 situation and adhere to requirements that are in effect at that time.”

Local school planning teams for the upcoming year will work on solutions for student absences for quarantine recommendations, should they arise, tailored to age-appropriate responses to help students keep on track academically. Planning teams will also evaluate extracurricular activities and athletics for safety and make recommendations, Dr. Schmidt noted, while staying flexible to respond to the most current information.

With only a few weeks of the school year remaining, Dr. Schmidt urged families to continue to behave responsibly outside of school grounds – continuing to stay home when sick and be tested for COVID-19 if necessary – to protect the health and safety of the wider community. “Please remain vigilant to these measures as we seek to finish the school year as strong as we started it.”