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J.C. School Board Prepares for September Reopening


A week after voting to adopt a $736 million budget for the 2020-2021 school year, the Jersey City Public Schools met to discuss preparations for the September reopening of the district’s 39 schools. Since schools closed March 16, teachers have been instructing students via the internet. They’ll continue doing so until Governor Phil Murphy authorizes schools to reopen.

At Thursday’s virtual meeting, the board’s nine trustees addressed special education classes’ returning to A. Harry More School and bringing in professional cleaning services to help district custodians get the schools ready for the fall. In addition, Superintendent Franklin Walker announced that due to Covid-19 restrictions, all June graduation ceremonies will be held virtually.

Students With Special Needs

Jersey City parent Barbara Hildner opened the public comments portion of the meeting to say she was concerned about  students with disabilities’ moving back to A. Harry Moore School. Last year, the students were relocated to Gerald R. Dynes Regional day school when a portico at A. Harry Moore School collapsed, halting classes until repairs were made. Once A. Harry Moore School reopens, only two of its five floors will be used for classroom instruction, Hildner said, crowding students into already cramped classrooms. There also seems to be an issue with meals for students on special diets: They aren’t getting them.

“Everybody agrees that the school cannot be successfully housed at Regional day (school), and there’s a plan to bring A. Harry Moore back to its original building, but the problems will move to A. Harry Moore if it’s relocated to just two floors,” Hildner said. “The plan is to have the same food service that provides meals throughout the Jersey City school system provide meals for A. Harry Moore students, (but) they are unable to accommodate any of the students who have dietary needs. That’s a problem that’s moving from Regional day to A. Harry Moore.”

Superintendent Walker responded by saying that A. Harry Moore School had been fully evaluated and cleared to reopen in September:

“We set up a timeline and currently that timeline is in place. We are on pace to develop a structure to provide full services and be fully functional to students at A. Harry Moore. As we move through this process, we are still tweaking some of our plans to make it the best circumstance for A. Harry Moore students.”

Vice President Gina Verdibello asked that the plan for A. Harry More School be made available to the board for review, and Superintendent Walker assured the board he would send them each a copy.

Cleaning Schools A-Z

Bayonne resident Mary Cruz called in to share her concern about mold and fungus growing in the closed school buildings. She recommended hiring a professional cleaning service so that all buildings are safe for children and staff. Cruz said: “Mold is the result of the air conditioning system being shut down since March. Take this time to bring in professionals to work with our custodial staff to clean each building to prevent students and staff from becoming ill.”

Every year a plan is put in place to ensure the entire school district’s buildings are clean, sanitary, and healthy for anyone who enters, Superintendent Walker said. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, every building will be thoroughly cleaned before the September reopening.

“Our top priority is the health and welfare of our students,” Superintendent Walker said. “That’s not something were going to take for granted. We have a custodial stuff in place for when school reopens. We also want to make available a (professional) cleaning service. As we did in the past, we will have air quality control measures that are taken where we test air quality. Some places we even test the walls, take chips from the walls to make sure they’re safe.”

Board trustee Gerald Lyons addressed custodial concerns. School custodians who have been cleaning the buildings told him they wanted Superintendent Walker and the board to know that when they do come up with a cleaning plan, if additional services are needed, the custodial staff is both trained and willing to do what’s necessary.

Bridging the Divide with Remote Learning

During the pandemic, teachers have been teaching remotely with the help of guidelines and tips from the state board of education. While this has allowed classes to continue uninterrupted, it has exposed serious inequities within the district’s student population and a significant conceptual flaw : Not all families in Jersey City have computers and internet access at home; therefore not all children could immediately or easily participate.

“Remote learning will never take the place of in-person instruction, but there are things we can do that are beneficial to the learning process that support remote learning,” Superintendent Walker said, referring to the board of education’s recent distribution of 3,500 Chromebooks (laptops) to students in Grades 3 to 12.

School Schedule for 2020-2021

Jersey City School Board Virtual Meeting Thursday, May 21, 2020

Schools will not be open in the summer, Superintendent Walker said. There will be an enrichment program for students and professional development programs for teachers. Deputy Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez announced that teachers would return to school on September 8 and students on September 10. The last day of the 2020-2021 school year will be June 25.

Virtual Graduations

 All commencement celebrations in Jersey City public schools will be virtual, Superintendent Walker said. To celebrate Jersey City’s graduating students, the Loew’s theater in Journal Square will honor them on its marquee.

Superintendent Walker advised parents, teachers and school board members to be patient as the board of education makes preparations to reopen the schools.

“We need to be a little patient to help students to succeed and prepare for September,” Superintendent Walker said. “We have committees in place for the closing and reopening, (and) we are all meeting and exchanging ideas, but the pandemic has changed everything. As soon as we receive the guidelines (to reopen) I will make them available to the public.”

The next virtual school board meeting will be held Thurs, June 25 at 6 p.m.

For previous reporting on A. Harry Moore school, click here.

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No Immediate Cuts in State Aid to Schools in Murphy’s Revised 2020 Spending Plan


But increases to direct aid, as well as boosts to preschool and special education, end up on cutting-room floor

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 njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By John Mooney

As he scrambles to close a multibillion-dollar budget hole, Gov. Phil Murphy will likely face little choice but to take a sizable sum out of New Jersey’s public schools, which represents the single largest slice of state spending.

But at least for now, schools have been left largely spared.

On Friday, the Murphy administration presented its revisions to the fiscal 2020 budget in the face of COVID-19, announcing more than $5 billion in overall cuts and deferrals across state government.

That included more than $330 million Murphy and state treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio pulled back in proposed increases in state school aid for the next academic year and all funding for preschool expansion and for extraordinary special-education costs.

But they did not call for a cut in existing direct aid and said districts would get the same overall amount they saw in 2019-2020.

Allotments to be announced

An administration official said precise allotments for each district would be announced soon, once the state’s school-funding formula was run with the same amounts used in fiscal 2020.

That likely means districts that stood to gain under the formula last year would do so again, and those already facing cuts would also would need to make them.

“The formula is being rerun,” the official said in a background briefing with reporters on Friday. “So the districts that are overfunded, the reductions are going to follow the statutory reductions, and those overfunded amounts will be reallocated to the districts who are underfunded. But no additional funding is being pumped into those underfunded districts.”

School leaders over the weekend were still waiting for details from the administration to judge how their districts would fare, but several were relieved that there weren’t any blanket cuts in the offing, at least not yet.

“Some expected the kind of 5% across-the-board cuts that we all experienced back in ‘09 and ‘10,” said Elisabeth Ginsburg, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, representing more than 100 mostly suburban districts. “Needless to say, those individuals are relieved.”

Others said they were also pleased that Murphy was at least following the formula under the state’s School Funding Reform Act, albeit at a lower level.

“It is encouraging to learn that the governor appears committed to school funding that remains aligned to SFRA, even if on a proportional basis,” said Mike LaSusa, superintendent of Chatham Schools. “When Gov. Christie slashed funding a decade ago, he did so with zero relationship to the formula and that led to a decade of haphazard funding.”

What will September bring?

Nonetheless, he and others said big questions remain going forward, including what the precise figures will be and, of course, what schools will look like come September.

“If, for example, we learn by the end of June what we can expect in terms of funding, and we also learn that it will not be possible to run athletics in the fall, that would help us make sound decisions now,” LaSusa said.

“We all understand there is pain ahead; the sooner the governor can inform us of the particulars of the pain, the better we can manage it,” he added.

A big question also surrounds what happens after this extended fiscal year ends and the next begins.

Murphy is slated to announce a new state budget for fiscal 2021 in late August. In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” this weekend, he said schools would surely be among those facing cuts and possible layoffs if the state does not see significant relief from the federal government.

“This includes potentially laying off educators, firefighters, police, EMS, health care workers,” Murphy said. “This is not abstract. This is real.”

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, said the federal government — even beyond this year — will need to step up to avert a further crisis in the schools.

“Flat state funding will get us through the next few months, coupled with $400 million in federal emergency funds to help reopen schools safe and ready for students,” he said in an email yesterday.

“But the forecast of big cuts in state school aid to be backfilled with new rounds of federal crisis funds is not a viable long-term strategy,” he wrote. “The only solution is a major, recurring infusion of federal funds over the next three to five years, to be reduced only when the state revenue sufficiently recovers to make up the shortfall.”

 

Header: Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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Fine Print: NJ School Boards’ Report Starts Conversation on Reopening


Ten recommendations for issues to be considered and questions to be answered

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 njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By John Mooney

Title: “Searching for a ‘New Normal’ in New Jersey’s Public Schools”

Author: The New Jersey School Boards Association, representing more than 500 public boards of education statewide.

What it is: The report lays out a series of recommendations for how the state and its public schools should proceed toward reopening in the fall. The recommendations range from those about immediate support for mental health services and remedial education to those focused on providing local communities a variety of options for restarting.

What it means: As the academic year enters its last month and remote instruction set to remain in place, the next discussion will concern how schools will restart in September. The association’s report is comprehensive in raising and exploring a number of key issue, as well as still unresolved questions to be considered.

Survey results: The report also includes a survey of districts and the options they are exploring, including split schedules and alternating between in-person and remote instruction. A third of respondents said alternate scheduling is among their early plans, as were other hybrid options that involved using online instruction. Only a tenth supported the option of extending the school week to six days.

Introductory quote: “In the two months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of our public schools, everyone involved in education has made a valiant effort to transition our students to digital learning,” said NJSBA executive director Lawrence Feinsod. “But now, as we look toward the reopening of schools, New Jersey’s education community faces even greater challenges.”

The 10 recommendations:

  • Mental health: Before schools reopen, school districts “should make a sustained effort to establish a sense of calm and trust so that learning, and assessment of learning, can occur.”
  • Communication: All stakeholders should be fully informed about the steps to be taken and what the “new normal” will be.
  • Personal protective equipment: Clear guidelines should establish the level and use of PPE.
  • Emergency action plan: Before schools reopen, boards of education should revise closing plans in case school buildings are again shuttered.
  • Diagnostic tools: Assessments should be administered to determine each student’s educational progress and to identify the need for remediation.
  • Remedial programs: The state should identify available funding for school districts to address the remedial needs of students.
  • Flexibility: The New Jersey Department of Education should ensure that districts have the financial and regulatory flexibility they need to respond to the crisis.
  • Updated financial data: The state must provide local boards of education with updated information on funding for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Menu of options for reopening: Options must be developed and offered to districts for what reopening looks like, including examinations of plans in other states.
  • Help teacher candidates complete training: The state should formulate an appropriate plan to provide an adequate pool of teacher candidates for the upcoming year.

 

Header: Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

 

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School Board Prepares Contingency Plan for Reopening Schools in Fall


New Task Force Likely to be Created to Set Guidelines

At Thursday’s Jersey City School Board meeting, trustees discussed a contingency plan for reopening schools in the fall. If Governor Phil Murphy orders schools to reopen in September, School Superintendent Franklin Walker and members of the board agreed that now’s the time to create a Covid-19 task force to oversee the details.

Trustees offered input on the steps necessary for reopening schools. Superintendent Walker emphasized safety as a main priority, thereby creating a Covid-free environment for teachers, students and administrators. Regularly disinfecting schools, testing students for coronavirus symptoms and enforcing social distancing and face mask restrictions are just some of the items on the school board’s to-do list.

“At this time, we don’t have any specifics on the re-entry of schools,” Superintendent Walker said. “If we go back, we’re not going to go back until September, if we’re lucky. The pandemic has changed how we do everything. As we await the governor’s announcement that New Jersey will reopen, we must be patient and help students succeed in the remainder of the school year.”

Superintendent Walker reassured parents watching the virtual meeting that prior to the reopening of schools, there will be transparency to “make them fully aware of what’s involved in the re-opening.”

Schools’ Covid-19 Task Force 

Superintendent Walker and the board discussed the need to assemble a Covid-19 task force of board members, teachers and parents to outline and orchestrate the reopening of Jersey City’s schools and the re-entry of its 30,000 students.

“Do we have children wear masks, do we reduce the number of children in each class for social distancing, do we incorporate the Copenhagen structure where some students go in the morning, some go in the afternoon?” Walker said. “We have to have a task force to come together and identify a structure and a process for when we bring students back. As long as the executive order is in place it gives us flexibility to customize our district to the safety and welfare of our students. Right now, before we decide we’re opening schools back up after the governor gives us the okay, we have to fine tune the details.”

Trustee Gerald Lyons and Vice President Gina Verdibello voiced concern about face masks for staff and children.

“Masks for children are a lot smaller,” Vice President Verdibello said. “If they do go back to school and wear a mask, that has to be considered. Let’s hope they fit right and get provided for free for every child when they come in.”

Superintendent Walker discussed temperature screenings to detect Covid-19 on a call with Mayor Steven Fulop and the Office of Emergency Management and Stacey Flanagan, director of Jersey City’s Health and Human Services Department, he said. Superintendent Walker said there’s a need for partnering with the city to help defray certain costs, like testing students for Covid-19 at a cost of 50 cents per test.

“The question came up, ‘Who is going to pay for the test?’” Walker said. “Who is going to pay for 30,000 students? We can test the students today, and tomorrow it can be a different situation. We don’t have the finances to support that, but as a city, based on stimulus and other monies available, there may be monies for that.”

It was announced in April, that New Jersey will receive $3.5 billion from the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (aka the CARES Act) funding which was signed into law on March 27. Jersey City Schools will get a portion of Jersey City’s allotment.

“I am upset at our City Fathers talking about how we are going to afford testing,” Trustee Marilyn Roman said. “This district has done a great job. We’ve done all we can to keep the children alive and healthy. This is important. You have to do it. It’s important to keep our kids safe no matter how much it costs.”

During the public comments section of the meeting, Jersey City resident Mary Cruz called in with concerns about cleaning the schools.

“People are talking about opening the schools,” Cruz addressed the board by phone. “Using the cleaning supplies that the Board of Ed buys for custodians does not satisfy the place being clean. We need to sanitize the toys used by the children in Pre-K. We can’t take any chances. Who’s going to clean those children’s toys?”

Superintendent Walker addressed Cruz’s concerns about school cleanliness. He said that prior to reopening, the Board of Education will perform a comprehensive cleaning of all the schools.

“Because of the circumstance of the health crisis we’re in, the process will be much greater, and it could require additional professional services to support that,” Walker said. “We are in the planning stage. We’re cautiously planning. We want strong support from state and city on what we do preparing students to enter the building. Our position is to keep everything in line as this whole process evolves.”

A Two-Day School Week

Trustee Alexander Hamilton thanked Superintendent Walker for keeping a sense of unity in the school district during the pandemic. He also voiced his support for students having a two-day school week.

“Some kids go Monday and Wednesday, other kids go Tuesday and Friday, and one day they clean the school,” Hamilton said. “That’s what my son misses the most, to see his teachers and his classmates. I would love to work with you on something like that. Let’s make sure we can use the foundation you created and come up with a plan that the children still have touch points with their teachers.”

Trustees Noemi Velasquez and Marilyn Roman brought up their concern about sanitizing the schools and how regular cleaning doesn’t offer enough security for the teachers. Roman said regular testing for Covid-19 needs to be put in place for the teachers and everyone else to feel safe in the schools.

“Everything has to do with testing,” Roman said. “Why would we send these teachers back to schools knowing they might be sick or asymptomatic? Doesn’t there have to be a testing process? As a teacher, I would not be comfortable unless I knew everybody was well. Maybe our department of health can help us? We need to start right away. It takes a long time to get those testing kits.”

President Richardson and the trustees adjourned the public portion of the meeting and went into private session for further discussion. Before signing off, Superintendent Walker expressed to the parents and the board watching the virtual meeting that living through these tough days, it’s important to never lose hope.

“Those of us who can dream, must dream,” Walker added. “I dream next school year we can meet the academic, health and social needs of all of our students.”

In Other News

On Monday, Governor Phil Murphy announced that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, New Jersey schools will stay closed the rest of the term.

“All schools will remain closed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year — to protect the health of our children, our educators and their families,” Governor Murphy announced on Twitter. “Guided by safety and science, this is the best course of action.”

Referendum Pulled

Mayor Steve Fulop and the Jersey City Council announced on Monday that the council will vote on a resolution at the May 6 council meeting to withdraw a referendum for voters to decide in November’s general election if the Board of Education should move to an appointed board.

“The world is a very different place today than it was in January when we approved the referendum,” Mayor Fulop said. “We still have major concerns with the Board of Education’s decision to raise taxes on residents during the pandemic, but the reality is we don’t want to be more disruptive to the schools when they return in September after being closed for months.”

Next Budget Meeting

The Jersey City Public Schools will hold its 2020-2021 budget adoption meeting virtually on Wed., May 13, beginning 6 p.m.

The meeting may be viewed live at https://www.facebook.com/TheSchoolDistrictOfJerseyCity.

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Just the FAQs: What the State DOE Is Telling Schools About COVID-19


The NJ Department of Education has been busy issuing guidance on numerous ways schools need to meet challenges of the coronavirus epidemic

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 njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By John Mooney

As of March 27:

For New Jersey’s schools, the changes imposed by the coronavirus pandemic are looking increasingly as if they’re here for the long haul.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced yesterday that any decision about how long New Jersey’s schools will remain closed and rely on remote learning will not be made until at least April 17, a month after his initial executive order to shutter schools.

The uncertainty has left open a host of questions about how schools will proceed — questions the state Department of Education has tried to answer in ongoing guidance.

The following are excerpts from that guidance, starting with the latest additions to the department’s FAQs.

It includes guidance about the latest graduation requirements for the class of 2020 after Murphy announced this week that state testing will be suspended. About 10% of students not passing those tests still would require a “portfolio appeals” process to graduate, a process now uncertain. There are also updates for teacher candidates suddenly put on hold.

Q: How can students, who must participate in the portfolio appeals process, meet their graduation assessment requirement if schools are closed?

A: “Portfolio appeals will continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. The NJDOE will extend the submission deadline of May 8, 2020, which is the district-submission deadline, to ensure the NJDOE will issue an approval in time for student participation in graduation ceremonies. The NJDOE is developing a process to electronically submit portfolio appeals and will provide additional information as soon as possible.”

“The NJDOE is encouraging districts and schools to develop a process to make Constructed Response Tasks (CRTs) available to students remotely. Some potential options include:

Post CRTs on district/school website.

Create a process and “drop box” for the electronic return to the district/school of completed CRTs.

Students without access to the internet can have CRTs mailed to them, complete them at home, and bring them for submission when school reopens.”

Q: Can I still apply for my educator certification?

A: “The online Teacher Certification Information System (TCIS) is available but with limited capacity. Candidates can complete an application, a notarized oath of allegiance and pay any fees online. The accompanying documents must still be submitted via mail to the Office of Educator Certification. There will be some delays in uploading the documents into TCIS and the NJDOE staff apologizes for this inconvenience.”

As of March 19:

The state Department of Education has been issuing guidance to New Jersey’s public schools for the past week about dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Included is a 15-page FAQ, frequently asked questions that range from the broad (what students must be served?) to the specific — addressing public meetings, for example.

The following are excerpts from the questions and answers included in the full FAQ, as well as other guidance. NJ Spotlight will update this document as more guidance is provided.

Q: How will districts ensure student attendance during the closures and the implementation of remote instruction?

A: “Any day on which all students impacted by a public health-related closure have access to home instruction services provided consistent with the guidance in this memo will count as (an instructional day) … Because such instruction is being provided, all students can be recorded as present for applicable days unless the district knowingly determines a student was not participating in any such instruction during health-related school closures.”

Q: What students must receive instruction?

A: “All students served by the district must be addressed in the plan, including students in preschool if the district has state-funded preschool and/or if the district services preschoolers with disabilities. The plans developed must include age-appropriate strategies and materials to meet the needs of all students. Districts offering preschool should remember to include contracted providers — private preschool providers and Head Start providers — in their planning activities. Each district plan must also include developmentally appropriate strategies and materials to meet the needs of all students with disabilities including those educated in out-of-district placements. Districts are encouraged to consult with the school in which the student is placed to provide continuity of instruction to the maximum extent practicable.”

Q: How might a district be able to administer home instruction remotely if families in our community do not have a device or Internet connectivity?

A: “Equitable access to learning is a critical consideration for any plan and will require that a district understands the limitations each student faces. Districts should consider collecting information on which students have access to a device, how that device is or is not shared, and what access each student has to a network. Schools and districts should take care to collect this information in a manner that avoids stigmatization of any students with varying degrees of access to technology and Internet service at home.”

“Instructional strategies should be varied and designed to meet the needs of the students. Districts should consider various solutions, such as utilizing partnerships with local community-based organizations and businesses, developing worksheets for instruction, or uploading of lessons electronically.”

“Accommodations and multiple means of conducting assignments should be considered for students with disabilities. If students with disabilities do not have access to internet connectivity to participate in remote or online home instruction, the IEP team will need to determine what compensatory instruction a student may require when their school district reopens.”

Q: How should students with disabilities, including students in special class programs, medically fragile students, students with one-to-one paraprofessionals and students receiving related services, be accommodated in the plan?

A: “Home instruction/services shall be consistent with the student’s Individualized Education Plan Program (IEP) to the most appropriate extent possible. Districts should talk to parents, who are key members of the IEP team, and help them consider how they may best ensure that students with disabilities have the necessary supports, including medical supports, in place during a public health-related school closure.”

Federal guidance on serving students with disabilities is available online.

Q: How should districts provide meals to students who receive free and reduced-price lunch during a closure?

A: “All boards of education must develop a school health-related closure-preparedness plan to provide home instruction in the event of such a closure. Each preparedness plan should address the provision of school nutrition benefits or services for eligible students.”

Q: How do COVID-19-related school closures affect statewide testing for school year 2019-2020?

A: “The NJDOE is communicating with the United States Department of Education (ED), other states in similar situations and school districts to develop guidance for long-term testing interruptions. We are currently evaluating all flexibilities and potential schedule changes and will provide guidance as school-reopening dates are confirmed.”

Federal guidance as it has been established thus far is available online.

Q: What options are available to boards of education to conduct business while minimizing the general public’s exposure during this period?

A: “School boards will likely need to hold public meetings to conduct business on various matters, such as developing a budget for the upcoming school year. In accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), public meetings may be held in person or by means of communications equipment, including streaming services and other online meeting platforms. All meetings, including those held using communications equipment, must be noticed in a manner consistent with the requirement of the OPMA, unless the meeting is for emergent circumstances and held in a manner consistent with the requirements set forth at N.J.S.A. 10:4-9(b).”

“Boards of education are reminded that they are required to provide a means of public comment even if a meeting is held remotely. Further, if a board of education currently records the audio or video of its meetings, we recommend that it continue to record a remote meeting.”

 

Header: Image courtesy New Jersey Department of Education Facebook page

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Amid COVID-19 Crisis, NJ Seeks Pass on Student Test Requirement


Governor also says he is unsure how long schools will remain closed in favor of remote learning

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 njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By John Mooney

Gov. Phil Murphy settled one question Tuesday for New Jersey’s 2,500 public schools and 1.4 million students in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — but left plenty unanswered.

A week into his full “stay at home” order for New Jersey and its schools, Murphy started his daily COVID-19 press briefing with an announcement that the state would seek a waiver from the federal government on required standardized testing for students this spring, a contentious issue in this state.

Approval is all but assured, as the federal Department of Education has said it would approve the testing waivers for the hardest-hit states. New Jersey has the second highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country.

“With students at home and not in their regular classrooms, it is simply not feasible for us to be able to move forward with testing in any meaningful way,” Murphy said in Newark.

“The number-one priority is for students to be able to work on the lessons before them and to use the time as best as possible to keep up with their current studies,” the governor continued. “Many parents have moved into a dual role as classroom educator, and it would not be fair for them to also pick up the role of test proctor as well.”

No word on length of closure

But at the same briefing, Murphy continued to hedge on how long schools would remain closed in favor of the remote learning now taking place, in a school year that now has just three months to go. He gave his familiar “until further notice.”

“That’s just not a decision we have made yet,” Murphy said to a question from NJ Spotlight. “I think folks should expect that schools will be closed for a meaningful period of time. That is hardly making news, I know, but when we have a more specific sense, I’ll give it to you.”

And even the long-expected cancellation of state testing raised some questions about what it would mean for students who are required under law to pass the tests for high school graduation come June.

A vast majority of the upcoming graduates are well-through the process at this point. Still, for the rest, Murphy said it would not change current graduation requirements that mandate passing either an 11th grade test or alternative measures, the latter of which take place in school settings. They include achieving certain thresholds on college-prep tests like the SAT or the ACT and a “portfolio appeal” process where a student’s classroom work is taken into consideration.

But when pressed on how that process would happen with schools shut down, Murphy said students wouldn’t be blocked from graduating due to either the changes or the new uncertainty about the end of the school year. Separate state guidance has laid out that the portfolio appeal process should continue.

“We are not going to prevent students from graduating high school due to the decisions we are making about standardized testing or how long schools will be open,” the governor said.

Once the waiver is approved by Washington, Murphy said he would issue an executive order for the one-year suspension and hinted it could involve changes to other education mandates as well. The department said it would also involve the suspension of standardized testing for students with limited English skills and other special needs. The order had yet to be released last night.

Welcome news in some quarters

Even with the lingering questions, Murphy’s announcement of the planned suspension of state testing was welcomed from some school groups, including the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s dominant teachers union that has long been a critic of the testing.

“NJEA supports the decision to eliminate standardized testing this year,“ texted Steve Baker, a spokesperson for the union. “Under these circumstances, there is no way to administer those tests and no justification for losing one minute of available instructional time. We are pleased that the [administration] is pursuing the waiver.”

In what has become an annual ritual that dominates the school day for weeks, the testing would have commenced in earnest in the next month, with exams administered to every student in grades 3-8 in language arts and math and then again in high schools in specific subject areas.

In place now for decades, the statewide exams are developed and administered through the state DOE, but as they are ordered through federal law, cancelling them requires a federal waiver.

But the testing here has been contentious to say the least, with New Jersey among the states that saw open protests several years ago and widespread “opt-outs” by students and their families.

Murphy ran for office on a platform that called for an immediate end to the PARCC testing the state had in place at the time. But that process turned out to be more complicated than maybe had been expected.

The state did technically end PARCC, as other states abandoned it as well. But the same online testing basically remains in place under a different name — Student Learning Assessments. And while the administration has said it plans to seek what it terms as a “next generation of testing,” that request for proposals has still not gone out as of several weeks ago.

 

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Jersey City Covid-19 Update 3/24


City Council Meetings

In an effort to adhere to social distancing protocols and best practices imposed by City and State authorities, the City of Jersey City has canceled all public meetings and closed non-essential services as of March 16, 2020 until further notice.  As a result, the council caucus and council meeting will be held virtually as a video conference with public access until further notice.

The city is utilizing, Microsoft Teams, an electronic platform that allows 10,000 people to view the remote meeting as attendees, with anyone from the Jersey City team present as a meeting participant.  The platform also allows for standard public comment through a chat function and also through an integrated real-time call in system. The email JCVCM@jcnj.org  has been set up for community members to send their name and phone number in advance to be considered for public speaking.  City officials will then call them to participate in public comment.

The council meeting scheduled for tomorrow, March 25 at 6 p.m. can be watched HERE.

Schools

The Jersey City Public Schools have extended the closure of schools due to the Covid-19 emergency through spring break and are now tentatively scheduled to reopen on Monday, April 20.

Let’s Eat Jersey City

The city is creating a directory of restaurants and foods shop open across the city.  This listing will help get the word out for food providers still open for business and which food providers deliver or provide take out.

Restaurants and food shops can sign up HERE.

The city has set up an emergency coronavirus page with the latest updates here – https://www.jerseycitynj.gov/CityHall/health/coronavirus.

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School Board Approves $736 Million Budget Proposal Representing a 47% Increase in the School Tax Levy


Final Budget for FY 2020-2021 Still Weeks Away
Board to Use Time for More Discussion and Public Input

At Friday’s special meeting of the Jersey City School Board parents praised Superintendent Franklin Walker’s proposed $736 million school budget for FY 2020-2021 and urged board members to approve it. If approved, it would increase the school tax levy (the part of assessed property taxes allocated to the public schools) $64 million, bringing the levy to $201 million.

Facing a midnight deadline to send an approval of the $736 million budget to Interim Executive County Superintendent Melissa Pearce, the board gathered at its Claremont Avenue headquarters to discuss the proposed budget. Eight of the nine board members supported the budget, but several members voiced concern that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with schools closed until further notice, an increased tax levy would burden homeowners at a time when many people are losing or getting laid off from their jobs. Superintendent Walker acknowledged these are tough times, but said children must come first.

Superintendent Franklin Walker, photo by Sally Deering

“I’m asking the board to invest in our children from the highest achiever to the most vulnerable,” Superintendent Walker said. “We are navigating difficult times, but our children are worth the sacrifice. If you think the cost to educate children of today is expensive, the cost not to educate them is much higher and has much greater consequence.”

Trustee Alexander Hamilton said he would like to postpone the vote during these uncertain times.

“I understand we want to pass this budget,” Trustee Hamilton said, “but I need to know what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in the city. I’m asking for this to be pushed back 30–60 days. I don’t care about the county. I care that the process is done right, and we make the proper assessment to get this done.”

Hamilton made a motion to postpone the vote, but no one seconded it.

Superintendent Walker’s budget includes the continuation of all existing programs and services, funding for ESL, a STEAM Academy, additional social workers and high school counselors, a mental health specialist and psychologist. The budget also calls for no teacher or staff layoffs or dismissals. Many of these concerns were brought up by parents in previous board meetings, and it seems Superintendent Walker listened.

Brigid D’Souza, a leader with Jersey City Together and a mother of two students at P.S. 3, said in response to the proposed school budget: “The initial budget from Superintendent Walker is both courageous and reasonable. It takes seriously the needs of Jersey City’s students and particularly its students who have the most needs. We hope the board does the right thing tonight and passes it, so they can begin more detailed discussions over the next two months.”

The school budget includes a $64 million school levy increase, which represents a 47% increase over last year’s school tax levy, but should not be mistaken for a 47% increase in property tax, which is made up of municipal, county and school taxes. The 2019-2020 school levy was $137 million. The 47% increase of $64 million will bring the school levy up to $201 million.

But the 2020-2021school budget still has a shortfall, Trustee Mussab Ali said.

Trustee Mussab Ali, photo by Sally Deering

“I think we need to recognize this is not a fully-funded budget,” Trustee Ali said. “Our schools last year were underfunded by $155 million. This year, despite the tax increase that we have, we would still be underfunded by $80 million based on the state formula of what is adequacy. That means last year we were underfunded by $5,000 per pupil. A student in our district was getting $5,000 less than what the state thinks is a thorough and efficient education. Even after our budget today, a student in our district will be getting $2,600 less than what the state thinks is a thorough and efficient education.”

Trustee Mussab Ali also wanted to clarify that the meeting that night was for the adoption of the budget, not a vote on the final budget.

“It doesn’t mean that today is the last day of the budget process,” Trustee Ali said. “It doesn’t mean this is the final version of the budget. We still will be getting public input and will be working on the budget over the course of the next six weeks. After that, we will vote to adopt a final budget.”

Parents called in during the public comments section of the meeting to voice their opinions. Scott Welfel, the father of a first-grade student said: “When we saw Superintendent Walker’s proposal,  we were thrilled. This is the type of leadership we need. We saw the mayor’s response. We think (it) was alarmist in an unsubstantiated way.”

Werfel was talking about Mayor Steven Fulop’s dismissal of the $736 million budget as “really irresponsible” as reported on NJ.com. The Mayor’s school budget plan had proposed $45 million in cuts and a $25 million yearly increase to the school tax levy over the next three years. The school board did not adopt any of those measures in its proposed budget.

“They’re going to destroy the taxpayers,” Mayor Fulop said. “They’re going to destroy residents, both renters and homeowners. People are struggling, and it’s not going to get easier for a couple of months.”

Superintendent Franklin Walker doesn’t think the mayor sees the big picture. He said the budget that’s being presented is part of the district’s strategic plan that prepares students for college and for jobs that have not even been created yet. Walker said that it’s the board’s responsibility to ensure students are academically competitive now and in the future. It’s called “future proofing,” he said.

“The strategic plan drives our budget,” Superintendent Walker said. “We’ve seen a significant decrease in the funding of millions of dollars over the last few years. This year, we have an increased allocation for our charter schools of $13 million. The cost of operating continues to increase. Last year, we had to lay off 400 teachers to submit a balanced budget. Our students deserve the best qualified teachers. In order to make Jersey City more desirable and continue to expand, we need all of our students and all of our schools to be successful.”

Making the midnight deadline, the board approved the school budget 8-1 with Trustee Alexander Hamilton the sole dissenter. School Business Administrator Regina Robinson said it would proceed to the county for approval if it covers all the guidelines. Assuming Hudson County approves it, the board would then have between April 24 and May 7 to adopt the budget before it went to the state for approval. During that window of time, there would be a public hearing for Jersey City residents and additional discussions by the board.

School Board President Lorenzo Richardson presided over the meeting with Trustees Mussab Ali, Alexander Hamilton, Gerald Lyons, Lekendrick Shaw and Noemi Velazquez in attendance, and Marilyn Roman, Gina Verdibello and Joan Terrell-Paige on speakerphone.

 

The School Board Caucus Meeting is scheduled for Mon, March 23 at 6 pm. It will not be open to the public, but may be viewed live on Facebook.com.

Header: Jersey City Board of Education special meeting on March 20, photo by Sally Deering

 

 

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Just the FAQs: What the State DOE Is Telling Schools About COVID-19


The NJ Department of Education has been busy issuing guidance on numerous ways schools need to meet challenges of coronavirus epidemic

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 njspotlight.com.
Full story link – HERE

By John Mooney

The state Department of Education has been issuing guidance to New Jersey’s public schools for the past week about dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Included is a 15-page FAQ, frequently asked questions that range from the broad (what students must be served?) to the specific — addressing public meetings, for example.

The following are excerpts from the questions and answers included in the full FAQ, as well as other guidance. NJ Spotlight will update this document as more guidance is provided.

Q: How will districts ensure student attendance during the closures and the implementation of remote instruction?

A: “Any day on which all students impacted by a public health-related closure have access to home instruction services provided consistent with the guidance in this memo will count as (an instructional day) … Because such instruction is being provided, all students can be recorded as present for applicable days unless the district knowingly determines a student was not participating in any such instruction during health-related school closures.”

Q: What students must receive instruction?

A: “All students served by the district must be addressed in the plan, including students in preschool if the district has state-funded preschool and/or if the district services preschoolers with disabilities. The plans developed must include age-appropriate strategies and materials to meet the needs of all students. Districts offering preschool should remember to include contracted providers — private preschool providers and Head Start providers — in their planning activities. Each district plan must also include developmentally appropriate strategies and materials to meet the needs of all students with disabilities including those educated in out-of-district placements. Districts are encouraged to consult with the school in which the student is placed to provide continuity of instruction to the maximum extent practicable.”

Q: How might a district be able to administer home instruction remotely if families in our community do not have a device or Internet connectivity?

A: “Equitable access to learning is a critical consideration for any plan and will require that a district understands the limitations each student faces. Districts should consider collecting information on which students have access to a device, how that device is or is not shared, and what access each student has to a network. Schools and districts should take care to collect this information in a manner that avoids stigmatization of any students with varying degrees of access to technology and Internet service at home.”

“Instructional strategies should be varied and designed to meet the needs of the students. Districts should consider various solutions, such as utilizing partnerships with local community-based organizations and businesses, developing worksheets for instruction, or uploading of lessons electronically.”

“Accommodations and multiple means of conducting assignments should be considered for students with disabilities. If students with disabilities do not have access to internet connectivity to participate in remote or online home instruction, the IEP team will need to determine what compensatory instruction a student may require when their school district reopens.”

Q: How should students with disabilities, including students in special class programs, medically fragile students, students with one-to-one paraprofessionals and students receiving related services, be accommodated in the plan?

A: “Home instruction/services shall be consistent with the student’s Individualized Education Plan Program (IEP) to the most appropriate extent possible. Districts should talk to parents, who are key members of the IEP team, and help them consider how they may best ensure that students with disabilities have the necessary supports, including medical supports, in place during a public health-related school closure.”

Federal guidance on serving students with disabilities is available online.

Q: How should districts provide meals to students who receive free and reduced-price lunch during a closure?

A: “All boards of education must develop a school health-related closure-preparedness plan to provide home instruction in the event of such a closure. Each preparedness plan should address the provision of school nutrition benefits or services for eligible students.”

Q: How do COVID-19-related school closures affect statewide testing for school year 2019-2020?

A: “The NJDOE is communicating with the United States Department of Education (ED), other states in similar situations and school districts to develop guidance for long-term testing interruptions. We are currently evaluating all flexibilities and potential schedule changes and will provide guidance as school-reopening dates are confirmed.”

Federal guidance as it has been established thus far is available online.

Q: What options are available to boards of education to conduct business while minimizing the general public’s exposure during this period?

A: “School boards will likely need to hold public meetings to conduct business on various matters, such as developing a budget for the upcoming school year. In accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), public meetings may be held in person or by means of communications equipment, including streaming services and other online meeting platforms. All meetings, including those held using communications equipment, must be noticed in a manner consistent with the requirement of the OPMA, unless the meeting is for emergent circumstances and held in a manner consistent with the requirements set forth at N.J.S.A. 10:4-9(b).”

“Boards of education are reminded that they are required to provide a means of public comment even if a meeting is held remotely. Further, if a board of education currently records the audio or video of its meetings, we recommend that it continue to record a remote meeting.”

 

Header: Jersey City Times file photo

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Emergency Closing of the the Jersey City Public Schools Starting March 16


The Jersey City Public School District reported today on their website that currently all their students and staff are fine and the district does not have anyone positive with the COVID 19 virus. However, out an abundance of caution the district’s schools will close the the week of Monday, March 16 to review risks and decide if they will remain closed another week. They will assess the available information at that time and notify everyone as soon as possible.

Tomorrow, Friday, March 13 schools will be open and students will be sent home with their assignments for the next two weeks. During the weekend, the district will advise parents and caregivers where and at what time meals will be available for students. Meals will be made available at the closest school.

Check the district’s website for additional information at https://www.jcboe.org/

 

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