New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced Wednesday schools that certify they cannot meet health and safety standards by the first day of class, must start the year with all remote learning.
The announcement comes a couple of days after the board for the Elizabeth School District in Union County voted to start the school year remotely; counter to Governor Murphy’s insistence that some form of in-person learning take place.
The Elizabeth district in North Jersey is the state’s fourth largest with more than 27,000 students. A spokesperson for the district told the network that more than 400 teachers have opted out of in-person classes due to health concerns. It also comes amid pressure from the legislature as some Assembly Democrats proposed an all-remote start to the school year.
Under the proposal, formally introduced Monday, the soonest that re-opening classrooms could be considered is at the end of October. The about-face was first reported by CBS News. But Governor Murphy insists that it was not a change from the approach his team took several weeks ago when they started discussing how to reopen schools.
“For the past six weeks, we have relied on the work of local educational communities to determine the best way for their schools to reopen,” he said.
“We have provided significant flexibility, including providing parents and guardians with the option to choose all-remote learning for their student.”
The governor also added that they’ve adjusted expectations based on science and data available, like mandating face masks for all students.
Governor Murphy invited school district superintendents from East Brunswick and Willingboro to the briefing to share their reopening plans which are very different from each other.
East Brunswick Superintendent Dr. Victor Valeski said his district was ready to reopen with a hybrid option. “Our objective was to exceed the minimum requirements articulated in the road back guidance from the Department of Education,” he said adding that all students in the district will have some form of virtual instruction.
By contrast, Willingboro Superintendent Dr. Neely Hackett said her district has decided to go all-remote only for the first marking period, which runs through Nov. 18. “In collecting feedback from our families, we found that the overwhelming majority were not comfortable sending their children back to school,” Hackett said. She also cited other issues the district is dealing with such as inadequate ventilation systems at schools and issues in getting personal protective equipment ordered for staff and students and physical barriers. Hackett also said staff needs additional training on “the complexities” of the hybrid learning model and enhanced cleaning protocols. The state health department in conjunction with the education department has been developing guidelines for school districts, including a risk assessment, similar to how the flu is monitored.
The plans could be finalized as soon as Thursday.