New Jersey plans to have students return to schools for in-classroom learning this fall, according to guidelines released by Governor Murphy today.
“We have every expectation that kids will return to the schools come September,” said Murphy. “Our public schools will be open for in-person instruction in some capacity with the health of students, their families and educators being the top priority.”
Admitting that there was no one-size-fits-all approach to this since the number of students and finances vary in public and private schools, the state is releasing guidelines that school districts will be able to use to figure out what works best for their students. The state used the data from superintendents and other education professionals along with a parent survey that garnered more than 300,000 responses.
Murphy says there are four principles to keep in mind when restarting in-person instruction.
- Ensuring a conducive learning atmosphere
- Supporting educational leaders with planning
- Providing policy guidance and necessary funding to schools
- Securing continuity of learning
As far as rules, the main one is social distancing, which are part of the recommendations from the CDC. Students must be spaced in classrooms, and when possible, classroom sizes should be reduced. With larger districts it may be impossible for the entire student body to be in school at the same time. In these cases the school districts may opt for a hybrid learning environment which will involve alternating in-person and remote learning.
Cafeteria and recess schedules will require social distancing and activities like reading circles, which involve students being close together, are discouraged.
All staff and visitors to the school will be required to wear face coverings. Students are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings, and will be required to wear them when they are in areas where social distancing is impossible, like busy hallways and lines.
Students must also wear masks on buses going back and forth to school, unless they are able to properly social distance.
All schools must work with custodial staff for daily sanitation and disinfection of the school, including classrooms, lockers and other areas. Buses must also be cleaned and properly sanitized each day.
Murphy says that he’s announcing these guidelines today so that districts have ample time to make plans and scheduling arrangements. Districts will need to work with their local boards of health, and must have their plan sent to families at least one month before the start of school.
He also advised that districts should be ready at any moment to return to distance learning, should the cases of COVID-19 spike and public health indicators worsen .
Commissioner of the Department of Education Dr. Lamont Repollet acknowledged that if social distancing isn’t possible due to class size, students may need to have physical barriers between them to keep them separated.
Districts can use emergency relief funding from the CARES Act to help with technology and cleaning and disinfecting supplies. Over 600 districts in the state have been approved for funding and will start receiving it next week.
Repollet admitted that many students didn’t get a complete education last year due to the switch to remote learning, especially at-risk students and students in areas where there wasn’t equity of access to technology and broadband. He said that educators would have to make up for this learning gap come fall. He acknowledged that the pandemic has brought to light a lot of issues of inequity and they are issuing guidance on maximizing resources for students for technology and access to broadband.
Repollet also acknowledged that it is up to the districts to decide how to handle cases when parents want to opt their children out of in-person education. He also said that the info going to districts would encourage them to use outdoor space for education when feasible.
Connecticut also revealed that its students will be returning to school in the fall full-time, with masks and social distancing, with students having lunch in classrooms and outdoors whenever possible.