Special Issue on School Reopening Plan
NJ Schools to Reopen
Last Friday, Governor Phil Murphy and the Department of Education (DOE) released a plan that sets a minimum framework for schools to reopen in the fall. Unveiling the plan, Governor Murphy said, "The return to school will pose challenges, but we are confident that New Jersey's school districts can move forward in a way that best serves the needs of their district while also achieving a safe environment for students and staff."
Under the DOE guidance, the State will require some in-person instruction but allows school districts to determine the number of hours or days. In the coming weeks, each school district will release its own reopening plan, which could include schools adopting a “hybrid model” of school instruction where some in-classroom instruction will occur in conjunction with remote learning.
The DOE guidance describes several health and safety standards that must be prioritized in each school.
- Districts must allow for social distancing in the classroom and on school buses. If keeping students six feet apart can’t be achieved, schools should consider physical barriers between desks, turning all desks all in the same direction, or having students seated on one side of a table spaced apart. They should also consider installing barriers in buses.
- Students are strongly encouraged to wear face masks and are required to do so when social distancing can’t be maintained. All teachers, school staff members, and visitors are required to wear face masks unless they are prevented from doing so by a health condition.
- School districts must implement procedures for cleaning and sanitizing school facilities and buses.
- School districts are required to develop a plan for conducting health screenings of students and staff with COVID-19 symptoms. Additionally, school districts, working with local health departments, are required to develop a plan for contact tracing for those who have come in contact with a COVD-19 positive patient.
- School districts are permitted to conduct recess and gym if group sizes are limited and there is separation between students. Students will also be permitted to eat lunch in school cafeterias. However, meal times must be staggered to allow for social distancing and disinfecting. Self-service and buffets are prohibited.
The DOE guidance requires districts to work with the community in the development of their plan. District plans must also be shared with families at least four weeks before the start of school.
Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Pam Lampitt reacted to the plan saying, “Returning to in-person instruction comes with significant logistical and financial challenges, leaving schools to answer to a host of new complexities. These span how to stagger schedules, how to accommodate individual needs and how to cover the costs. This guidance will be valuable for schools as they look to promote a safe learning environment that addresses the unique needs of students, educators and the greater school community. That said, the 104-page guidance put forth today doesn't give sufficient direction.”