New Jersey schools will reopen for in-person instruction in the fall as long as COVID-19 rates don’t spike, state officials said on Friday.
School districts must offer some in-person instruction and can not continue to conduct 100 percent of their lessons remotely in the fall, but districts can implement a hybrid approach where students also receive remote instruction on some days.
The wearing of facial masks, social distancing, frequent cleaning of buildings, contact tracing, and the flexibility to adapt to the situation as it evolves based on public health data are all key components of the state’s plans for reopening school buildings. The plans are detailed in “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education,” a 104-page document.
Each school district will be required to develop a reopening plan. Officials said many decisions are up to local school district officials so they can tailor the guidlines to meet the needs of their districts. Each of New Jersey’s 577 public school districts will have to weigh its options and come up with its own proposal that meets or exceeds the minimum guidelines.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach we can take,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at his daily press briefing in Trenton on Friday. Officials said districts should try to share preliminary scheduling plans with staff and students at least four weeks before the start of the school year.
That guidance and recommendations:
- Masks will be required for school staff and visitors. Masks are strongly recommended for students and required when social distancing can’t be maintained, including on buses.
- Social distancing in classrooms, seating students at least six feet apart. If that’s not possible, students must wear masks and physical barriers can be built between desks.
- Districts must screen students and employees for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure. Those with symptoms must be isolated from others. The guidance calls on staff to observing students, though temperature checks are preferred.
- Schools and school buses must be sanitized.
- Lunch buffet lines are not allowed. Mealtimes must be staggered. Districts should consider having students eat grab-and-go meals in their classrooms or have meals delivered to classrooms.
- Recess should be implemented in staggered shifts, with playground equipment and other shared equipment disinfected by staff between uses.
- Districts should consider closing locker rooms. Students could be encouraged to wear comfortable clothing and safe footwear to take part in physical education classes without needing to change clothes.
- Social distancing is expected on school buses. The CDC recommends that only one student be seated in a row, with rows skipped between each child if possible. Barriers separating rows of seats are also possible.
- In all cases where social distancing is not possible, students must wear masks unless they are unable to for health reasons.
- Keeping school buildings closed for district-wide remote learning is not an option. Students can be taught in-person in staggered shifts if necessary. Students must receive a minimum of four instructional hours (either in-person or remote) each school day.
Executive orders issued by the governor must be followed by school districts and supersede all other orders and regulations.
Murphy required the state’s schools to close on March 18. Parents have been waiting for an announcement about whether children will return to school in the fall so they can make decisions about childcare and returning to work. Murphy said Friday the importance of schools providing childcare so parents can work was one reason for making sure school buildings open up.
Murphy said schools are expected to start the new academic year in late August or early September. School officials can make changes to schedules as long as students go to school the 180 days required by state statute,