empty class room

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

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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Dickinson High School

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.”


Header: Dickinson High School, Jessey City Times file photo

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School Children

Taking on Education’s Toughest Task: Remote Learning and NJ’s Special Kids

An NJ Spotlight virtual roundtable brought together educators, teachers, parents to assess lessons learned, next steps with distance learning likely for rest of school year

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

As it becomes more likely that New Jersey schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year and will continue to rely on remote instruction, the biggest challenges involve special education and students with special needs.

This week, NJ Spotlight hosted a virtual roundtable on the topic, bringing together the state’s top officials overseeing special education, as well as a teacher and a family advocate.

The discussion ranged from guidance the state would be providing on how to deliver this instruction to lessons learned for educators and families. The roundtable was moderated by NJ Spotlight founding editor and education writer John Mooney. The roundtable’s complete video has been posted online.

The following are edited excerpts:

Q: From your perspective, how is the state doing so far and how are the schools doing so far in providing services to students with special needs?

Peggy McDonald, assistant commissioner, Division of Student Services, NJDOE: So we have challenges, we have things that are going on. But I will say that under Commissioner Lamont Repollet, we as a team have really been working diligently every day to do as much as we can to support educators and parents. Gov. Murphy signed into law a bill that ensures equitable instruction virtually for kids with disabilities and ensures that related services can be provided. We have teams across the department, a special education representative in every single county, taking calls, listening to parents to help meet the individual needs of each kid with an IEP (Individualized Education Program).

Are there challenges? Yes, there are challenges in special education every day. Is there more we can do? Sure. But we are really working hard.

Q: What would you say if you could name one area that has been the biggest challenge in terms of special education?

McDonald: Our commissioner is truly committed to equity. It is one of our core themes. And ensuring that every student has equitable access to these services is a challenge. School districts do things in different ways. School districts, families, have different opportunities and resources. But it’s also been an amazing adventure to see all of the groups, community groups, as well as the county offices, as well as the department staff, as well as community resources, really working together to fill those gaps so that students can have access to instruction during this time.

Q: Dr. Buxenbaum, you are now the state’s special education director, but you also are a former director of special education in Ridgewood public schools. Give me your report from the field.

Kim Buxenbaum, director of the Office of Special Education, NJDOE: Our teachers, our educators, our related service providers in general are always very excited to work with our students. They went into these fields because they have a passion for teaching, for helping students learn and grow. And so, even in a regular school day, sometimes we have to bob and weave a little bit, especially in special education. We focus all the time on trying to make sure where we’re outside of the box and not in the box. And I think that our educators are really working hard in that vein to adapt to this new virtual-instruction and remote-instruction world. And I’ve been really impressed with a lot of the creative things that are going on.

Q: Lynda Shanahan, talk a little bit about the challenges you face as a teacher. What is your typical day as a special educator?

Lynda Shanahan, special educator, Pennsauken High School, member of the NJ Special Education Advisory Council: My day always begins with trying to reach out to my students. I do that through Google Classroom, emailing. I also try to reach out to parents on a regular basis. I try to figure out ways to implement some kind of instruction, whether it’s through a video or inviting students to Zoom. So I’m trying to expand my own repertoire in order to be able to reach their needs.

So right around like two o’clock, I’ll send out a Google Meets. And for those students who aren’t able to get onto the program, I do have some students that request for individualized instruction. So I also provide that as well.

I do have a few students that I’m unable to get a hold of. So I’ll do things like sending letters, sending books. Anything I can to try to make that connection with my students.

Q: I imagine that’s a challenge. It’s not like you can go knock on their door.

Shanahan: It is a challenge. And that’s one of the challenges with the situation at hand. On one hand, we are trying our best to reach out to students, reach out to families. However, it’s not always that easy. So we are trying, but it is one of the challenges.

Q: Karen Edler, as one panelist who’s not necessarily an official educator, speak to the challenges being faced by families through all of this and some of the lessons we’ve learned so far.

Karen Edler, family advocate, Price, Meese, Shulman & D’Arminio: I think it’s certainly going a lot better now than in the beginning. The reality is that everybody was thrown in this pot together. And the challenge for parents, of course, is they became their child’s teacher, their child’s assistant, their child’s one-to-one aide, if you will.

They’re also, in most cases, also trying to do their jobs. So the stress and strain on them is tremendous.

There are some districts that are doing extremely good assistance to the parents. I’ve seen some conversations with aides and parents where they’re actually able to help with some of the behaviors of the autistic population in ways they couldn’t do when school was open, because now they’re seeing the child in the home environment and hearing what parents have been saying for years.

The flip side of that coin is a lot of issues with the delivery of counseling, speech, occupational therapy, supplemental instruction. There’s a lot of frustration, and we are trying to help our clients manage that.

There’s also been a big discussion going on because some districts sent parents a release form requiring them to sign a waiver and a release prior to getting the services. And that’s something that the parent should not be being required to sign. And so that’s been a major issue, and that’s probably the majority of the calls that we get.

Q: Dr. McDonald, we have received a lot of questions about related services, counseling and other therapies. Much of them rely on being one to one in the room and now they are being provided remotely. How effective do you feel that is?

McDonald: That has to be answered on an individual basis. But what we’re trying to do, first of all, is to ensure that IEP teams have the ability to make the determination that those services would be delivered virtually.

So the issue of how these services are provided, we’ve given some guidance, but we’re looking to work with the professional organizations. We’re looking at putting more guidance on our website from the national organizations for these service providers.

Q: Can you speak to the concern that some districts are asking their special-needs families to sign releases or waivers from filing complaints over the services provided during this time?

McDonald: We’ve had discussions with our attorneys on this. And as you know, parents can’t waive away their rights. They cannot give it to either the current services or the future services. So we are coming out with guidance for districts on that as well.

We want to hear from parents. We would like them to call the county office or call our special education ombudsman, so we can address that with the individual district to ensure that no student is denied services, present or future, based on waiving their rights.

Q: Dr. Buxenbaum, talk about some of the things that have evolved in this time. Have there been any surprises?

Buxenbaum: Being able to translate physical therapy or occupational therapy into a home setting through this virtual remote instruction is something that we’re starting to look at.

We’re (also) having conversations about some of the processes in terms of evaluations and what is happening in that process. What are some of the pieces of evaluations that can be done remotely? Are there other areas of assessment that really require in-person? So we’re working with our districts and trying to have these conversations and have them be able to have good conversations with parents at the IEP table.

We’re hoping that conversations with parents can happen in a way where everybody is understanding that we’re in a really difficult situation. So there are certain pieces that we can do through an interview, through some remote observation potentially, depending on the capacity of the parents and what they have available to them. But there are other pieces that do require in-person. And so things may need to happen once school reopens.

It may be that not all pieces of those evaluations can be done. But that doesn’t mean that there are things that the teams can’t do and the district can’t do to be able to talk to the parent and figure out what’s happening with the student and put some supports in place.

Q: How about the parents’ perspective in terms of having to be flexible around what is not the most flexible of systems?

Edler: Most parents, they’re most frustrated by the lack of ability to get evaluations and a lack right now of adherence to required timelines, especially where the evaluations were commenced before the pandemic and are now continuing or at least supposed to continue during the course of the pandemic. It’s a tough issue, but I think the parents are hoping there will be more flexibility with giving evaluations, educational or psychological testing, speech testing through the remote process.

So it’s very hard because you’re trying to plan not only for your child’s future now, but this is the time of year, we call it IEP season, where parents are planning for their child’s future for next year and being where we are now and not knowing what’s going to happen when school is going to be go back.

Q: Lynda Shanahan, you and I spoke a little bit about how this situation has opened up the communication lines between families and their teachers and vice versa. Speak a little bit to that in your personal experience.

Shanahan: One of the things is that teachers are reaching out more. One of the important issues is the fact that we are recognizing going from the traditional to a more nontraditional virtual world is that students have social needs. So it’s very important for us as educators to continue to make those connections with our students. So on a regular basis, we make sure that we’re reaching out some way, shape or form via email, telephone, Google classroom. So it seems to be a part of this time right now.

Q: Compensatory services is a big issue, what districts will be able to provide these students in terms of making up for the losses. Is there guidance yet on that?

Buxenbaum: What that compensatory education looks like is going to be very different based on the individual student, how their disabling condition impacts them in terms of their education. And where are the areas where there may have been some regression and loss. So those conversations really need to start happening.

And we’re encouraging districts to continue to collect data. Progress-monitor what you’re doing from an instructional standpoint in terms of the reading, writing and math, science, social studies instruction, in addition to the related service pieces that are happening, making sure that we’re monitoring how students are doing and making adjustments along the way.

So at the end of all this, once those schools reopen, the teams can sit down and have conversations about whether a student needs compensatory education. And if so, what does that need to look like? How long? How much, in what areas? But as you can imagine, a student that may have a specific learning disability, their need for compensatory education may be very different than some of our more intellectually disabled and medically fragile children.

Edler: This is one of the biggest topics that we’re hearing. There are some school districts which have gone to effectively what they reference as a half-day schedule. So to that extent, they’re only providing half of the occupational therapy or physical therapy, any and all of the related services in addition to their supplemental instruction.

We’ve encouraged all the parents out there to keep a log of what their child is entitled to and what their child is receiving to help down the line and determine what’s been missed and what needs to be replaced.

Q: Lynda Shanahan, do you worry about learning loss during this period of time as a teacher?

Shanahan: Absolutely. Yes, it is a concern because we always want to be able to have our students to have positive outcomes. But at the same token, too, I think right now teachers are really focusing in on not necessarily numbers or data as much as we are right now, focusing on the students as far as their social and/or emotional issues during this time.

That is something that’s extremely challenging. However, as teachers and educators, we all know that that is something that’s very important. We always strive to teach the whole child. So with this virtual situation, it does make it extremely challenging.

However, we are doing everything that we can. We as the teachers and administrators, child-study team members, we’re not only reaching out, we’re trying to have videos to try to cheer them up, let the students know that we’re thinking of them. The students miss their friends. And that’s something that’s very important to look at, that piece where they really do miss those human connections with their teachers and those that really care about them and their coaches and their counselors.

Q: Are there things that have surprised you most in this experience?

Shanahan: One of the things that has really surprised me the most has been that we have increased our camaraderie; we have increased our collaboration as professionals and also in collaboration with students and families. So that has been something that’s been a good thing that I would like to see continue to be enhanced through all of this, because we really do need each other in order to make this work.

Q: Other things our panelists want to get across to our audience?

Buxenbaum: The other thing I would say is to also make sure you’re having conversations with your kids, with your students, and that folks are checking in. If they haven’t heard from a family in a while, have the case manager call and check in for those students that we know have some other challenges with their social and emotional pieces or their mental health pieces, that we have folks in the district that are trained to be able to work and to assist the families with those pieces.

Sometimes, some of the most creative ideas of how to solve a problem come from those conversations with the parents and the educators at the table. So the more we can collaborate and try to keep in mind that we’re all trying to do the best we can.

Edler: I think this time is difficult and trying on both sides. I do believe that collaboration is the key. I know parents who feel like they just have to accept the situation and that they can’t actually ask for someone to deliver their services. I would say to all parents, reach out. If you have a problem, if you see your child struggling, if you feel services are not being appropriately delivered, tell someone, tell your case manager, tell your director of special education, reach out to your county executive if you need to, if you feel that you’re not getting a problem resolved.

The children need the education, and I think when people are reaching out, we found positive responses. Maybe we don’t always agree, but we are able to find common ground and deliver more education to the child.


Header: Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash


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new jersey department of education

Lessons Learned on Managing Remote Learning During COVID-19

Three New Jersey educators weigh in on how they, students and parents are adapting; they shared their thoughts in an NJ Spotlight/NJTV News virtual roundtable

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

Working from his kitchen, NJ Spotlight founding editor John Mooney spoke with three accomplished New Jersey educators for an hour-long discussion about the state of schooling and instruction two weeks into the coronavirus pandemic.

The conversation touched on the details — and challenges — of remote instruction on all levels, the importance of communicating with parents, how to grade students from afar, and even whether there will be a spring break this year.

And as closing advice, each had a tip for their fellow educators — and parents — that may prove useful.

The following are edited excerpts, and the full discussion can be watched here.

Typical school day

Q: So, tell us about your typical school day these days?

Dr. Danielle Kovach, special education teacher, second and third grades at the Hopatcong School District, New Jersey Teacher of the Year in 2011: The day starts just like every other. I wake up, I make my coffee. I may not always get out of my pajamas first thing in the morning, but I do start with communicating to my parents, sending them an email. I set up a Google Meet for my students, so my students and I meet every morning. We basically have some conversations. First, how are things going? How are things going with their work? We do our calendar. We greet each other, which is harder with video conferencing. But we’re working through those things.

Q: Do all of your students have video capabilities and online capabilities?

Kovach: No, and that’s been a huge challenge, as well. I have students who not only don’t have video capability, they don’t have internet and parents don’t have an email address. So in those cases, I just reach out to the parents directly through phone calls and just checking up as much as I can to make sure that they’re OK and they’re following through with their work.

Dr. Denise King, principal of B. Bernice Young Elementary School in Burlington Township: I’m almost the same world — balancing home, work and school; staying up late hours, making sure that we communicate regularly. I’m on video or phone constantly. This is what I do all day now. I’m used to walking the building on a regular basis, checking in with teachers face to face, hugging students regularly, just making sure that everybody is good. I’m doing that again, but I’m doing it virtually.

So my day begins with plugging in, doing our digital chats with the central administrators, talking with case managers and teachers. And we do family chats. I had a little family chat yesterday and today. And that gives me a sense of the pulse of what’s happening in their world.

Q: What is the pulse, what are you hearing?

King: Well, I would say today is definitely better than it was last week. Parents are juggling, as Danielle said. I have my granddaughter and my mom that live with us also. So I’m balancing that, making sure that I’m helping her with her schoolwork.

Dr. Scott Rocco, superintendent of schools for the Hamilton Township School District and president of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators:

Everybody has risen to the occasion here, no matter what their title or responsibility. And that’s how we’ve made it work. It is better this week than it was last week. We were in true triage mode over the last week-and-a-half or so. And we’re beginning to find a groove of how things are working.

I have three high schools in my district, and so that poses an interesting angle when you’re working K-12. One of the things that we know is that our high school students tend to have more of an opportunity to either have a device and Wi-Fi at home or to have their own smartphone that has data where they can do a lot of the work through their phone or through a device.

That being said, when we started this a week-and-a-half ago, 83% of our students in the district were connected to a device and Wi-Fi. About the end of last week, we were 87%. By the end of yesterday, we had handed out 1,300-plus additional devices, and we are at about 98% of our students now connected on device and Wi-Fi.

Q: Can you speak to what a day’s schedule is like for high schools?

Rocco: I know across the state my colleagues have done all kinds of different things, from having a specific schedule to setting specific times. In Hamilton Township, we have told our students that our teachers will be available between 10 and 2 every day to assist. Teachers are putting up lessons, running video chats, videotaping their own lessons, and making connections to resources that are out there.

What I have found is that the teachers have made themselves available way beyond 10 to 2. Plus, the teachers are putting assignments up, so that the students can do it at their own pace. But they are answering emails all day long, all night long and responding to our students and our parents. And that’s the other nice thing, is that our teachers are responding directly to our parents.

King: That is so true on all levels. Every single person is working above and beyond. So we decided in our district to have Wednesday a “take a breath day,” just to take a moment, to take a breath and just not assign any new assignments. So much is happening that we can’t catch our breath. We want the families to not be so overwhelmed. We want the teachers not to be overwhelmed.

Students with special needs

Q: We have gotten a lot of questions from our audience about the challenges of serving students with special needs and disabilities.

King: That’s an excellent conversation to have. Personally, I am a parent of a young adult with unique abilities. You’re right. We have students who need support. That is what the behavior specialists help with and things that we have done to help a child make progress. To understand the emotional components of what they need is a regular battle. It’s not easy.

Q: Do you worry about loss of learning?

Rocco: Absolutely, every day. For all students.

King: We have parents who are learning themselves with their children. Many of the skills, some of them are not familiar with them. So it’s a learning curve for everybody, especially when they’re not used to using technology to do it. So the learning component of it is different. I know for our lower grade levels, we just decided to go to a pass-fail component for our students.

It’s not for lack of effort by the teachers. They are working hard. They are working hard to do the best that they can in the environment that we have. But think about this: We haven’t really tested a lot of it out over time. So we are just doing it now for the better part of about eight days, nine days. I would say over those nine days, there’s been a lot more success than there has been failure.

Remote report cards

Q: Will grading have to change?

Rocco: It’s a great question. Just yesterday we decided as a central administrative team to move the elementary level to a pass-fail grading system. We’re looking into a pass-fail because what you said is correct. The validity of what’s occurring regarding instruction, we really can’t assess to that because the students are in the home.

Kovach: That is still an unknown for us because all of our students are using paper work. I’ve been encouraging my parents to take a picture if they can send me their work; that way, at least maybe not for grading purposes, but I can check on their progress to see how they’re doing.

Q: How will you decide whether a child will advance? And Dr. Rocco, you have high school kids where class rankings really matter. What are the conversations happening right now around that?

Rocco: We’re having those conversations every day. We’re having it with the principals and supervisors, my directors. We’re going to try and come up with a plan that’s fair and balanced, based on what we have available.

Our teachers are grading work that the students are turning in. They’re doing project-based learning also on top of that. But we have to look at this because it has a long-term effect. It’s not just the seniors who you need a final GPA for when you determine who is Number One and who’s Number Two in the class. But it impacts all four grades, moving forward year after year after year.

Q: Are SATs and ACTs going to happen for the spring?

Rocco: Right now, the SATs and ACTs are postponed. I suspect they’ll probably run some time either end of June or the beginning of July. AP is going to happen and actually be done individually. Kids can take those. College Board has been great with the information they’ve put out. But that’s also going to be different because they’re going to take it from home. And my understanding is it’s predominantly going to be essay-based.

Best practices

Q: Are there one or two best practices that you’ve encountered in just the last couple of weeks that you’d be willing to share?

Kovach: Honestly, the best thing that I’ve found so far that has been the most effective every single day is open lines of communication with parents, especially when you work with children with special needs.

When we speak, when we talk and we communicate or they know that we are there to help them, that has what I have found to be the best help. And I think we as educators need to realize that our parents need a lot of support now. It is just not our students that need support.

Spring break

Q: Is there going to be a spring break this year?

Rocco: Yeah, that’s been one of the biggest questions that we’ve had. I think we need a break from the remote learning, it’s been so new for everybody. We will be three weeks into it. So I think we do need a break. I think that gives parents, that gives children, that gives teachers a needed break to kind of refocus, re-energize and then come back after spring break and be ready to go again.

Q: How long is this sustainable? Can we do this for the rest of the school year, which may be a reality?

Rocco: I have no doubt our teachers and administrators and everybody in the district will rise to the occasion and get it done. And I think that’s across the state and across the country. I think that can be done. We’ll just adapt. We adapt day in and day out and make it work.

King: I agree with Scott. It’s definitely a possibility. We have to do it. I believe throughout our collaborators, our collaboration with our team, with every student, parents and our families and our district stakeholders, we are prepared to do what we need to do to make it effective.

Kovach: Let’s look at it from this way. New Jersey right now is the best in the nation in education. I know that our teachers are thoroughly ready to do this, and we are fully committed to do everything we can to give our students the best education possible, no matter what circumstances we’re under.

One piece of advice

Q: As we close, one tip to educators who are watching this?

Kovach: I would have to say that we have to also take care of ourselves. This is very emotional for us. It’s getting very stressful for us. As teachers, we want to give. We want to give everything of ourselves, but we also need to think of ourselves to make sure we’re getting sleep, make sure that we’re getting some exercise, taking care of ourselves, so that we can take care of our children and our families and know that we’re doing our best.

King: Breathe and laugh. You do have to have a sense of humor. Make sure you stay connected with everybody. It’s a lot going on.

Rocco: I agree with both of them 100%. But I also want to make it very clear to everybody, just as was just said, we will get through this. We will get through this together. I think that’s an important piece we need to understand.

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new jersey department of education

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

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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