Guidance to Reopen Schools

Governor Phil Murphy and Department of Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet announced on June 26 the release of “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education,” which provides guidance to reopen schools this fall.

The plan announces that, absent a change in public health data, public schools will open for in-person instruction and in some capacity at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Individual school districts together with community stakeholders will be expected to develop plans that best fits their own district’s needs.

The guidance sets the minimum standards for returning to school and describes several health and safety standards to be prioritized in school reopening:

  1. Social distancing: Schools and districts must allow for social distancing within the classroom. This can be achieved by ensuring students are seated at least six feet apart. If schools are not able to maintain this physical distance, additional modifications should be considered. These include physical barriers between desks and turning desks to face the same direction (rather than facing each other)or having students sit on only one side of a table and spaced apart.
  2. Face coverings: School staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or the individual is under two years of age. Students are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and are required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained, unless doing so would inhibit the student’s health. It is necessary to acknowledge that enforcing the use of face coverings may be impractical for young children or certain individuals with disabilities.
  3. Limited capacity: 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.
  4. Cleaning/disinfecting: Procedures must be implemented by each school district for the sanitization of school buildings and school buses. Increased hand washing measures are also important for students and staff.

These provisions are informed by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, which call for protecting staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as providing options for telework and virtual learning; providing reasonable accommodations for older adults (65 years and older) and individuals with serious underlying medical conditions; and, when possible, keeping early childhood students apart during naptime and avoiding close-group activities like reading circles.

Other provisions in the guidance include:

  1. 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.
  2. Recess should also be held in staggered shifts, with efforts to promote social distancing and hygiene protocols.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

As being able to reopen schools is dependent upon health data and informed by experts in the health field, districts will need to be prepared to switch to remote instruction at any time during the 2020-2021 school year should circumstances change. The guidance stresses that each school district should be working to ensure every student has a device and internet connectivity available, and it identifies funding streams available to school districts to ensure students have access to technology.

Districts should strive to share preliminary scheduling plans to reopen schools with staff, families, and students at least four weeks before the start of the school year in order to allow families to plan childcare and work arrangements.

Click here for a summary of the guidance.

Click here for the full guidance.

For more on the Jersey City School Board’s plans to reopen schools, please see Sally Deering’s coverage J.C. School Board prepares for September reopening.


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Decision to Close Schools Brings Issues About Remote Learning to Fore

Graduation, special ed, summer school — and the all-too-familiar technology gap — are just a few of challenges that remain unresolved

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit

Full story link – HERE.

By John Mooney

Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement yesterday that schools would remain closed, relying on remote instruction for the rest of the academic year surprised nobody.

With the governor acknowledging New Jersey was the 46th state to do so — Ohio was the first on April 20 — it was more a matter of what took him so long.

But the long-anticipated announcement at Murphy’s daily press briefing laid bare the vast number of unresolved challenges and questions for schools, families and educators — not just in the next five weeks but in the months to come.

Here are a few of them:

How exactly is this going to work?

By most accounts, restarting schools at this point would have been a humongous logistical feat, requiring as much effort as continuing with remote instruction.

“The hurdles — logistical, educational and practical — to allow students and faculty to return even for a short while could not be overcome,” Murphy said in explaining his decision.

But that doesn’t mean anything is easy about the current situation, and Murphy and state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet conceded as much.

“None of this we could have envisioned when we set out to be educators,” Repollet said, himself a former principal and superintendent.

But now come the hard questions. What will happen with graduations? How and will students be retained or moved ahead? How will special education and its unique challenges be addressed? And then there’s the matter of summer schools.

Repollet for the most part said more guidance was coming, leaving most of the hard decisions to individual districts. “There are different needs with different districts,” he said, repeating it several times.

Nonetheless, he said districts would be required to submit revised “emergency preparedness plans” for how the year would end and how instruction would be provided.

How graduations are handled will be left to each district, he said, with Murphy adding that he hoped for a range of  “safe and creative ways to give the Class of 2020 a proper send-off.”

Grading and retention decisions would be left to districts as well, although there may be some guidance from the state, the commissioner said. And summer school viability was yet to be determined.

The yawning technology gap

Murphy said when he closed schools the first time in March that there were three main concerns: distribution of food to those in need, efficacy of remote instruction in general, and equitable access to technology for that learning.

Food for the most part is being delivered, officials said, as is remote instruction to the majority of the state’s 1.4 million schoolchildren.

But there remains a huge question mark concerning the technology needs of students, as Repollet said. The department’s own survey of 520-plus districts found 90,000 students without the needed technology at home.

When asked whether he was concerned about those numbers, Murphy acknowledged the reality: “This is not ideal. I don’t want anyone to think this is ideal.”

The districts in their revised plans will need to address those shortcomings, Repollet said, adding the state would seek $310 million in education aid under the federal CARES Act to apply to technology and other emergency needs.

“That digital divide should be lessened as we move toward September,” he said.

Repollet said districts would be left to decide how that money is to be spent. There are no guarantees the technology would be in students’ hands tomorrow, leaving students in many communities, especially poorer ones, continuing to rely on paper-and-pencil and other low-tech measures.

“School districts would be left with a great deal of discretion to how to apply these funds to address the needs of their students,” Repollet said.

Far less money to go around

 Murphy didn’t mince words about the next wave of sobering news for schools and their finances: It’s going to get ugly.

When asked what should public schools expect in terms of state aid, Murphy said it’s “to be determined, but everything will get crushed.” He added that significant layoffs are to be expected across all government sectors.

“I’m more worried about manpower,” Murphy continued. “State aid has an indirect impact on manpower when it comes to our education system.”

The Education Law Center on Monday released a letter it sent to Murphy outlining the steps that districts will need to take to apply for the CARES money. With it, the ELC released estimates about how much funding would go to each district, ranging from no additional money for a handful of small districts to more than $32 million to Newark, the state’s largest.

But the funds are specifically earmarked to serve the most disadvantaged districts, especially when it comes to technology, the ELC noted.

“There is a digital divide in our state across lines of poverty, race, disability and other factors that puts students at-risk while sheltering at home,” said David Sciarra, the ELC’s executive director. “It’s time to permanently close that divide.”

And then there’s next year

School districts had already started planning for next fall’s reopening, if it’s even happening at this point. Ideas that were unheard of two months ago are suddenly real possibilities: staggered schedules, smaller class sizes, online learning and even face masks.

Again, Repollet said there would be considerable leeway offered to districts.

“Our guiding policy-principle is each local community knows its students best, and our job is to provide every flexibility we can to unlock innovation while also putting guard rails in place,” he said.

Murphy said nothing is anywhere close to decided, and a steering committee of stakeholders would be created in the coming days that would begin having those discussions.

 “There is a lot to be considered to how the school day may differ once our students and faculty return,” he said.

Repollet added what is becoming all too obvious through this pandemic: “As for the future, we don’t know what it will look like.”


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Murphy Waives All State Testing for New Jersey’s Graduating Seniors

But there are few other certainties as of yet, including how to reach students who have no access to technology for remote learning and how long lockdown will last

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit

Full story link – HERE.

By John Mooney

New Jersey’s 2,500 public schools and 1.4 million students are in limbo when it comes to how this school year will proceed and how it will end. But yesterday, Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration answered at least a few of the questions.

In a sweeping executive order, Murphy announced in his daily briefing that he had extended the current closure indefinitely — hinting that a firmer decision is still at least a week away. But he also announced an end to limbo for roughly 13,000 high school seniors, waiving all state testing requirements for those hoping to graduate with a diploma this June.

Murphy had already suspended the testing for the spring, but his order said any final hurdles — including a last-resort portfolio appeal — would be removed and graduation assured as long as the students met local requirements.

“They will no longer need to submit an appeal in order to graduate,” Murphy said.

The decision won quick plaudits from advocates who had worried in the early days of the pandemic that these students would be unintentionally harmed.

“The reduced availability of alternatives and the difficulty of implementing the portfolio with schools closed made enforcing the testing requirement untenable,” said Stan Karp, director of secondary reform for the Education Law Center.

“The governor’s decision provides needed relief for 13,000 seniors who were on track to graduate in June and for their schools. It will allow them to concentrate on the many challenges they face in light of the pandemic.”

Nixes testing for teacher evaluation

Murphy’s orders also specifically eliminated the use of testing for evaluating teachers, although it was already minimal, and gave a few local districts flexibility in pushing back school board and budget votes from April to May 12.

Nonetheless, the governor and state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet at the daily briefing didn’t mince words that challenges and uncertainties remain, including around the large numbers of students without the technology for remote instruction.

By the state’s own survey, more than 100,000 students don’t have either the internet connectivity or the one-on-one devices needed for distance learning. Paper-and-pencil tools are still available, but officials conceded the more technology the better.

“Online learning is just one tool,” Repollet said. “Continuous instruction can come in many ways.”

The commissioner pushed to give an upbeat appraisal, saying educators statewide had made remarkable strides in a few weeks. “These extraordinary circumstances call on all of us … to reach for new heights of innovation, collaboration and mutual support,” he said.

“We have been at this 20 days,” the commissioner said.

How long in lockdown?

Still, the basic question remains about how long schools would be in lockdown and relying on remote instruction. Murphy has said that decision wouldn’t come before April 17, a month from his initial order, but he yesterday offered little encouragement that schools would be back to normal anytime soon.

When specifically asked whether families should plan for the late-spring graduation season, for example, the governor said he wouldn’t bet on it.

“I’m not trying to be flippant, but I wouldn’t put any nonrefundable checks down on the (graduation) celebrations right now,” Murphy said. “It’s hard to say otherwise. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear I am not.”


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