New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced this afternoon the long-awaited plans for reopening schools in the Garden State this fall.
The guidance advises more than 2,500 public schools, as well as hundreds of yeshivos and private schools, on how to fully prepare for 1.4 million students returning to the classroom, though not necessarily at the same time.
“This guidance has been in the works for weeks, and takes into account the many differences which exist among our schools and education communities — whether they be geographic, demographic or economic — and acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all guidance that can be applied to every school and every district,” Murphy said.
“While this guidance will have clear standards to be followed in every district to ensure the safety of everyone in our school facilities, individual district superintendents and boards of education, working with their school communities, will be given flexibility to ensure an implementation strategy that best works for their specific needs, and which recognizes and respects the unique characteristics of each of our districts,” said Murphy.
Reopening schools is a major step in a return to normalcy as the state rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic. Many parents’ ability to work is reliant on childcare, making school reopening a significant step in the state’s economic recovery.
Among the new requirement will be social distancing measures and for busses, once approved for operation, to be sanitized on a regular basis to ensure students’ safety.
“Today’s guidance comes with one overarching requirement: that our public schools will open in some capacity with the health of students, their families, and educators being the top priority,” Murphy said.
The governor said that the state is using four principals in its guidance to schools:
– Ensuring a conducive and learning atmosphere
– Supporting educational leaders with planning
– Providing policy guidance and necessary funding to schools
– Security continuity of learning
Each district will be expected to develop, in collaboration with community stakeholders, a plan to reopen schools in the fall that best fits the district’s local needs.
All faculty and staff must wear face coverings and students will also be strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained.
All schools will work with their custodians to sanitize the school daily.
It is recommended that students and staff be seated at least six feet apart in class when practicable. When weather allows, windows should be opened to allow for greater air circulation.
Bus drivers will also be required to make sure that students are wearing face coverings.
“I understand this will be no easy feat,” Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet said of the return to school. “Knowing that the health of students and staff is our number one concern, our guide will begin to fill in the picture of what a safe education system will look like in the fall.” (Matzav.com)
Other provisions in the guidance include:
– Cafeteria directors should consider staggering meal times to allow for social distancing; discontinuing self-serve or buffet lines; having students eat meals outside or in their classrooms; and requiring staff to disinfect eating areas between groups.
– Recess should also be held in staggered shifts, with efforts to promote social distancing and hygiene protocols.
– Cohorting: Schools may wish to identify small groups of students and keep them together (cohorting) to ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible, thereby limiting exposure to large groups of students.
– School bus operators should encourage social distancing. CDC guidelines recommend seating on a school bus such that there is one student seated per row, skipping a row between each child, if possible. Barriers separating rows of bus seats may also be considered. If social distancing is not feasible, face coverings must be worn by students who are able to do so. Increased ventilation (i.e. opening windows) is also recommended in the guidelines.
Murphy also said that the plans in any and all districts could change if there is a need to return to an all distance learning plan should there be another wave of the coronavirus.