The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), which represents more than 500 public boards of education statewide, has issued a 37-page report titled “Searching for a ‘New Normal’ In New Jersey’s Public Schools” that examines how the coronavirus is changing education in the state. The report makes 10 recommendations for how the state and public schools should prepare for reopening in the fall. The short-term and longer-term recommendations range from supporting students’ mental health and clearly communicating to the community measures being taken to make schools safe in the fall to creating protective equipment guidelines and blueprints for reopening schools that include a menu of options.
An NJSBA survey sent to school board members, superintendents, and school
business administrators on April 16 drew more than 1,000 responses to the
the question, “What strategies is your district considering to provide classroom instruction while accommodating social distancing?”
Nearly three out of ten respondents (29.14%) cited alternate in-person and remote instruction. Another 23.68% favored split sessions.
Administrators raised concerns and questions about issues like transportation, teacher safety, budget cuts, sports and other extracurricular activities, and monitoring the health of students.
The ten recommendations detailed in the report:
- Mental Health – The mental health of students and staff is of the greatest
importance. Before schools reopen, and before any evaluative tests are
administered, school districts should make a sustained effort to establish
a sense of calm and trust so that learning, and assessment of learning, can
- Communication – Administrators should engage in early, sustained
communication with board members, parents and staff, outlining and
thoroughly explaining the measures being taken so that they can instill
confidence that schools will be a safe place. Before school reopens, all
stakeholders should understand what the “new normal” will be, and how
it will work.
- Protective Equipment Guidelines – To sustain the health of students and
staff, boards of education should work with their superintendents to adopt
clear guidelines establishing the level of Personal Protective Equipment
(PPE) that will be provided by the district and what equipment may
be brought from home. For example, will facemasks be required? What
types of masks are acceptable? How will local PPE standards compare
with guidelines from the state, the Centers for Disease Control and other
- Emergency Action Plan – Before schools reopen, boards of education should
work with their superintendents to revise closing plans that address the
resumption of full online instruction if school buildings are again closed
due to health and safety considerations.
- Diagnostic Tool – Once a safe learning environment is re-established,
academic assessment, that is appropriate to each district, should be
administered to determine each students’ educational progress and to
identify the need for remediation.
- Remedial Programs – As early as possible in the budgeting process, the
New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) should identify available
funding for school districts to address the remedial needs of students.
- Flexibility – The NJDOE should ensure that districts have the financial and
regulatory flexibility they need to respond to the crisis. The New Jersey
Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC), which is the state’s
monitoring and district self-evaluation system, should either be suspended
or revised so that districts are not penalized for taking actions necessary to
address the pandemic.
- Provide School Districts with Updated Financial Data – To plan for the
eventual reopening of schools, education leaders need accurate information
now on the pandemic’s impact on revenue. Toward this goal, the state
must provide local boards of education with updated information on
funding for the 2020-2021 school year. Waiting until the governor’s new
budget message in August is too late.
- A Menu of Options for Reopening – In developing a blueprint to
guide the reopening of schools, state education officials should work
with stakeholder organizations and consider other states’ plans, such
as Maryland’s Recovery Plan for Education, released May 6; and
the Missouri School Boards Association plan, Pandemic Recovery
Considerations: Re-Entry and Reopening, issued May 5. Both plans offer
a variety of strategies and encourage districts to choose options that work
best for their communities.
- Help Teacher Candidates Complete Training -Schools were closed before
teacher candidates could complete required classroom observations and
training. New Jersey should formulate an appropriate plan to provide an
adequate pool of teacher candidates for the upcoming year. Other states,
including California and Maryland, have developed plans to help teacher
candidates complete their training.
You can read the full report online here.