An estimated 230,000 New Jersey students didn’t have Internet access, a laptop or a digital device to participate in online learning after schools were shut down for in-person learning in March. Governor Phil Murphy shared this figure during a press conference held in Irvington today to “address the digital divide for New Jersey students.”
The lack of access to technology in school districts throughout the state continues to be a major challenge as schools formulate their plans for September amid the coronavirus pandemic. While Governor Murphy has said he expects schools to reopen in the fall, each district must present its individual plan to the state. Most are expected to offer a hybrid approach to learning which means having access to the Internet and a laptop at home will be crucial.
With a lot more virtual learning looming on the 2020-2021 school year horizon, Murphy said New Jersey is committed to closing the digital divide for the upcoming school year and beyond. The state will need to spend around $115 million to close the divide, about half of which will come from federal funds. The rest will come from the coronavirus relief fund and other funding sources, he said. Murphy hopes the private sector and philanthropic community will also play a big role in funding this need.
Local school officials, meanwhile, are surveying families and working to form a plan to open each of their districts. Most are offering in-school learning at least part-time as well as online options and a hybrid of both. Families can also opt-out of in-person learning entirely.
On Thursday, the state’s coronavirus death toll rose to 15,665 known and probable fatalities with 176,501 total positive tests. If the numbers spike, public schools may need to shift back to 100 percent remote learning during the school year.
School districts must present their plans to the state by the end of July but many, such as Parsippany, are already sharing their blueprint for keeping students and staff safe. Has your district announced its plans yet? Are you comfortable sending your kids back to school this fall? Let us know in the comments.