As the first day of school gets closer, many New Jersey school districts are doing an about-face, opting for a fully remote program for the start of the school year. After Gov. Phil Murphy changed his decision that would require districts to offer at least some form of in-person learning, many school boards convened to determine they are just not ready to welcome students back into the buildings.

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As of Tuesday, at least 139 New Jersey school districts have inquired with the Department of Education about starting the year all-remote. Some of NJ’s biggest districts–Camden, Newark and Jersey City–are on the all-remote to start the school year list. On the other side of the argument, many parents already stressed by months of homeschooling are protesting the decisions they say will prevent their kids from learning and them from being able to get to work.

On Wednesday morning, parents in Princeton received a succinct email saying there would be no return to school for kids in September.

“Princeton Public Schools will begin classes on September 14 in a fully remote mode. No in-person classes will be offered until October, when the district hopes to begin a phased-in plan to bring some staff and students back to school buildings in person,” read the email. An information session via Zoom was offered for parents to ask questions about the plan, which just days ago was comprised of a hybrid model that brought students back in two different cohorts for two half-days a week of in-person learning each.

More than 70 districts in the state have already adopted a fully remote plan for the beginning of the school year. While many of these districts hope to reopen for in-person instruction in some capacity this fall, other districts, such as Camden and New Brunswick, don’t want to open their door until 2021 due to concerns over coronavirus.

On Tuesday, parents in Scotch Plains-Fanwood rallied outside the middle school, asking for the opportunity for students to at least have a hybrid school model. Organizer Danielle Prussin Wildstein said that Summit, Clark and Cranford are going back to in-class instruction in September, and Scotch Plains-Fanwood should, too, since children are experiencing massive learning loss sitting at home in front of computers instead of being in school.

Superintendent of  Scotch Plains-Fanwood Public Schools Dr. Joan Mast asked for parent input in a letter dated August 7, but Wildstein argued that parents were not even allowed to speak or ask questions about the plan to keep students home.

On August 14, Dr. Mast addressed parents in another letter, saying “At this time, we do not feel that all the buildings are ventilated to the level required to contain the spread of COVID-19,” and called for an “At Home Virtual Model” to the school year.

“Why if the HVAC system was deemed inadequate or unsafe was it just discovered now?” Wildstein told New Jersey Family. “School was safe to open up until last Thursday and then suddenly it’s not on Friday?”
 
Governor Murphy has publicly stated last week and as recently as today that “any resubmitted plans to begin the school year with all-remote learning must cite specific health and safety reasons for the change.  District leaders must certify to these reasons, and provide a timeline to get to in-person instruction.”
“We want answers.  We want a call for action,” Wildstein continued. “We want schools to open safely as deemed safe by the state as soon as possible.  We suspect that can happen in September.  We want hybrid learning back as a choice.”

In Summit, the SEA (Summit Education Association) which represents teachers, staff and custodians in the Summit district, planned a sit-in for Wednesday to protest the school’s reopening plan, saying it’s unsafe to ask teachers to go back into the building for school.

“The SEA members are eager to return to our classrooms and see our students, but not at the expense of our own health and that of our students and their families,” the group said at the latest Board Meeting.

Many districts are still finalizing plans for the start of the year. In Ridgewood, parents were given the option of all remote classes or a hybrid of both online and in-person instruction. “Our principals expect to finalize our schedules during the week of August 24. I know this is late, but the numerous changes have impacted the work they have done and now need to redo,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Daniel Fishbein said in a letter to parents. “Parents should expect teacher and class assignments to change, and given the option for parents to transition between instructional models, parents should also expect that some staffing assignments may shift over the course of the fall as well.”

NJ.com has compiled a county-by-county list of districts that have decided to go remote-only. Keep in mind the list will be updated as changes are made.

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