New Guidance Released for Reopening NJ’s Schools

At today’s COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has released guidance on reopening schools for the 2020-2021 academic year.

“With these unprecedented final months of the school year behind us, our focus turns to what will be an equally unprecedented start to the 2020-2021 school year,” Murphy said. “We have every expectation that our kids will return to their schools come September.”

Murphy added that while the guidance outlines the standards that every school must follow in order to reopen, it also comes with flexibility for districts to ensure an effective implementation strategy that meets their unique needs.

The guidance includes minimum standards such as following certain social distancing practices in classrooms and face covering measures for students and staff, and provides recommendations to assist districts in achieving these standards, such as implementing hybrid learning environments in which students receive both in-person and remote instruction.

Murphy did add that districts will need to be prepared to pivot to remote instruction at any time during the 2020-2021 school year in the event that public health data takes a turn for the worse.

NJDOE developed the guidance with input from various educators and stakeholders including superintendents, education and community organizations, and parents and guardians.

“New Jersey educators and families did an amazing job over the past three months implementing remote learning, even with relatively little time for planning. That effort was nothing short of heroic,” said NJDOE Commissioner Lamont Repollet. “However, too many parents feel that remote-only instruction isn’t working for their child, and too many children are falling behind. It is becoming abundantly clear that children need to return to a school environment in some capacity, and we need to do so safely.”

Some key aspects of the guidance include: 

  • Social distancing: Ensuring students are seated at least six feet apart. If schools are not able to maintain this physical distance, additional modifications should be considered. These include physical barriers between desks and turning desks to face the same direction (rather than facing each other).
  • Face coverings: School staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health. Students are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and are required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained, unless doing so would inhibit the student’s health. 
  • Limited capacity
  • Cleaning/disinfecting
  • Cafeteria directors should consider staggering meal times to allow for social distancing; discontinuing self-serve or buffet lines; having students eat meals outside or in their classrooms; and requiring staff to disinfect eating areas between groups.
  • Recess should also be held in staggered shifts, with efforts to promote social distancing and hygiene protocols.
  • Cohorting: Schools may wish to identify small groups of students and keep them together (cohorting) to ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible, thereby limiting exposure to large groups of students.
  • School bus operators should encourage social distancing. CDC guidelines recommend seating on a school bus such that there is one student seated per row, skipping a row between each child, if possible. Barriers separating rows of bus seats may also be considered. If social distancing is not feasible, face coverings must be worn by students who are able to do so. Increased ventilation (i.e. opening windows) is also recommended in the guidelines. 

The full school reopening guidance can be found here.

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