Gov. Phil Murphy signs an executive order officially clearing both pre-K through 12 schools and colleges and universities to reopen for the upcoming academic year. However, teachers and others are calling for schools to operate remotely as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

In-person learning can fully resume immediately as long as social distancing and other protections are strictly enforced. Parents have the choice of continuing remote learning.

Over the summer, Murphy said his administration has been working alongside school districts and educational communities. He’s also been working with educators, parents and other stakeholders to ensure that safety plans would be in place for students, teachers and staff.

“Not only will this not be a normal school year, furthermore, there is no one size fits all plan to this very difficult situation,” Murphy said. “As we have mentioned here before, we are home to nearly 600 public school districts, plus charter and Renaissance schools, non-public and parochial schools, and other specialized places of learning. Each one faces its own unique challenges, serves a unique community, and has its own unique character.”

The state’s Department of Education has put forward guidelines for the health and safety of students and staff to allow in-person instruction to resume. Murphy said that for some districts, there are reasons why some health and safety standards won’t be met by the first day of school.

Both public and non-public schools must certify to the Department of Education that they can meet the health and safety standards to resume in-person instruction. Districts not meeting all the health and safety standards will begin the school year remotely. Public school districts must submit a date to the Department of Health on when they plan to meet the standards.

“To support districts’ planning efforts, the Department of Education has been working closely with the Department of Health,” said Interim Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer. “We thank our partners at the Department of Health for their invaluable leadership and expertise in developing forthcoming guidance to local health authorities on public health recommendations for school settings, and for their expertise in developing the minimum standards that districts need to implement in order to safely open to in-person instruction for the upcoming school year. We’re confident their guidance will provide a useful guidepost for schools and local health authorities to develop procedures for responding to and mitigating the potential spread of COVID-19 in school communities based on local needs and circumstances.”

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli has outline a plan of action if a COVID-19 infection or outbreak occurs at a school.

Parents will need to screen students before sending them to school. Staff will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival and  students and staff will report symptoms during the day. In conjunction with the local health department, rapid testing resources when will be available for staff or students who develop symptoms. There are also guidance on cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, at least on a daily basis, if not more. Hand hygiene supplies will be available along with implementing physical distancing measures and source control through wearing of face coverings.

If a child becomes sick at school and it is suspected to be COVID-19 related, the child will be isolated immediately  sent home as soon as possible. It is advised that the child see a healthcare provider for evaluation on whether testing is needed.

Some school district have already announced they plan to delay opening for in-person learning in September. Reports indicate that Paterson Public Schools’ buildings will remain closed until at least Nov. 1.

Newark’s public charter schools announce a series of common standards for the new school year beginning. Their “COVID-19 Compact” lays out promises to the community to reopen schools ensuring high safety standards for staff and students, quality instruction and online learning, as well as support for social emotional learning needs.

The compact was created with support from the Newark-based non-profit New Jersey Children’s Foundation (NJCF). While each school is taking an approach to reopening and remote learning that is consistent with state guidelines and meets the needs of their individual school community, the compact aims to capture the many common principles employed by every school as school begins to reopen.

“We are heartened to see Newark’s charter schools come together to articulate strong, yet flexible standards for reopening schools safely, even as state rules and pandemic conditions are creating a fast-moving target for everyone right now,” said Kyle Rosenkrans, NJCF’s Executive Director.

As state officials announce the Garden State is ready to go back to school for in-person learning, officials from several education unions want to pump the breaks no students and teacher going back to the classroom.

Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association released a joint statement calling for all New Jersey public school to go all remote this fall.

“Our nation is in the middle of an uncontrolled pandemic. Our state, while doing better than many others, has not yet stopped the spread of this virus, particularly among the same young people who are scheduled to return to school in under four weeks,” they said. “New Jersey’s communities are still at risk, and putting students and staff inside school buildings, even with exceptional precautions, increases that risk.”

The union leaders are also citing cases across the nation where schools have opened up and have seen outbreaks of COVID-19. Videos and photos posted online show schools wear masking wearing and social distancing have not been enforced leading outbreaks.

Data released this week by the Camden and Gloucester County Health Departments reveals that children and teenagers are making up the share of growing COVID-19 cases.

“We have seen what is happening elsewhere in the country where, within a few days of opening, schools are having to transition to remote learning following outbreaks of COVID-19,” the union leaders said. “Every day, through research and the experience of other states, we are learning more about the effects of this disease on children and their ability to contribute to community spread. We have repeatedly asked for universal statewide health standards, which have not been provided.”

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