Empty Classroom

Murphy Stresses Importance of School Reopenings

It will be a year tomorrow that schools throughout New Jersey closed and transitioned to all remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. At today’s COVID-19 press briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy stressed the importance of fully reopening schools, as he expects students and educators to be “safely” in their classrooms for full-time, in-person instruction for the 2021– 2022 academic year.

“We know there are students across the state who have fallen behind [academically] due to the stress of remote learning, and we know it is time to stem this tide before more students fall away,” the governor said. “A full year out of their classrooms is not how students move forward or how our world-class educators move forward in their professions.”

Murphy said the American Rescue Plan, recently signed by President Joe Biden, will provide the state public schools with nearly $2.8 billion. “Much of that money will be used towards [school] reopenings and combating the learning loss that we know occurred,” Murphy said.

Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of the Department of Education, added that the state, two days ago, released its application for $1.2 billion in federal elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds. “I am confident these funds will provide schools districts with the resources they need to plan and implement the safe reopening of school buildings,” she said.

“The consensus grows every day that the more time a student spends away from in-person instructional time, the greater the risk of learning loss and social, emotional and mental health impacts,” Allen-McMillan said.

“These setbacks in educational development will not be spread evenly among all students,” she continued. “Those who have historically faced the biggest hurdles of unlocking their full potential will likely bear the brunt of these impacts. Student with disabilities, English learners, low-income students, Black and Hispanic students, and students experiencing homelessness or foster care are often the hardest hit by the disruption of school closures.

“Our schools provide more than just academics. They provide crucial mental health and emotional and behavioral supports for students. … For all these reasons and more, the safe return to in-person instruction is among our foremost priorities,” she said.

Gov. Murphy gave a rundown of the number of primary and secondary schools that are teaching in-person, using a hybrid model, or were still all remote.

“As of today, of the 811 public school districts, charter schools and renaissance schools and schools for children with disabilities across our state, 142 are currently open for all in-person instruction. That’s 108,000 students back in their classrooms full-time,” Murphy said. “Another 534 schools are open for hybrid instruction. That accounts for 843,394 students. This leaves 317,044 students in 98 schools or districts who are still on full-time, all remote learning.”

He added that last week saw the biggest shift from hybrid learning to full-time, in-person education since the pandemic began.

In other news, Murphy said he will be signing an executive order today ending the current prohibition on outdoor interstate youth sport competitions, effective this Friday at 6 a.m.

Outdoor attendees at these events will be limited to players, coaches, officials and up to two parents or guardians per participating athlete. No additional spectators will be allowed. The governor stressed that all attendees must follow all health and safety protocols, such as wearing masks and social distancing. Athletes must wear masks when sitting on the sidelines.

Murphy also reminded everyone that indoor gathering limits can increase from 10 to 25 people and outdoor gathering can increase from 25 to 50 people, this Friday. Indoor capacity for restaurants, gyms, health clubs, recreational facilities, arcades and personal care businesses also increases from 35% to 50%.

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