TRENTON, NJ – Education was a main focus of Gov. Phil Murphy’s COVID-19 press conference in Trenton on Friday afternoon.

Earlier, he announced that parents who want their children to do online learning only would not be required to send their kids to school.

“This is not going to be a normal school year. It is going to be hard. It will be a challenge to everyone,” Murphy said. “Providing flexibility to the kids, that’s what this is about. We promised that we would listen, and we did.”

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The governor said that allowing parents the option to choose all-remote learning for their children will help decrease student density within our schools and allow classroom spaces to stretch further to ensure proper social distancing for other students and staff.

“Our top priority is keeping students, their families, and educators safe,” Murphy said. “To do that, flexibility, local decision-making, and empowering parents and educators are all critical.”

The governor announced that the New Jersey Dept. of Education (NJDOE) is releasing guidance to make clear that giving the parents the option of choosing all-remote learning for their children for the upcoming school year should be allowed by school districts as part of their reopening plans.

“We found the money to provide (internet) access and devices to every kid. This is something we weren’t able to do a month ago," Murphy said. "Had we not found that money to address the digital divide (or internet gap), we couldn’t say it’s universally available.”

The governor said that it is now up to the districts to “fold this flexibility into their plans.” He acknowledged not being able to predict what the virus will look like six weeks from now, when school is scheduled to start, and that he would continue to assess the health numbers when making decisions.

“We will continue to closely follow the public health data as we progress through the rest of this month and into August. We will continue to assess the realities of this virus on-the-ground, and how they may impact schools’ plans broadly,” Murphy said. “We will make changes in real time if needed. The health and safety of our educational communities is paramount.”

“With today’s New Jersey DOE guidance, we’re providing districts with even greater flexibility to ensure that they can meet this need,” he said. “We’re not mandating any one specific way to move forward.”

NJ DOE Guidance

The scheduled start of the new school year is still roughly six weeks away. Last week, Gov. Murphy, unveiled his plan to ensure Pre-K-12 students have access to reliable internet connectivity and digital devices for the upcoming school year. Following the announcement, the NJDOE today released the following guidance:

Unconditional Eligibility for Fulltime Remote Learning:

All students are eligible for fulltime remote learning; eligibility cannot be conditioned on a family/guardian demonstrating a risk of illness or other selective criteria. This includes students with disabilities who attend in-district schools or receiving schools (county special services school districts, educational services commissions, jointure commissions, Katzenbach School for the Deaf, regional day schools, college operated programs, and approved private schools for students with disabilities).

Procedures for Submitting Fulltime Remote Learning Requests: NJDOE seeks to clearly define procedures that a family/guardian must follow to submit a request for fulltime remote learning, including requests to begin the school year receiving full-time remote learning and requests to transition from in-person or hybrid services to fulltime remote learning during the school year. Procedures should meet the following guidelines:

  • Clearly define deadlines for submitting a request and district’s expected timeline for approving requests.
  • Identify points of contact for questions and concerns.
  • Clearly describe information or documentation that the family/guardian must submit with their request. In accordance with #1 above, such documentation shall not exclude any students from the school’s fulltime remote learning option, but rather be limited to the minimum information needed to ensure proper recordkeeping and implementation of successful remote learning.
  • For students with disabilities, districts must determine if an IEP meeting or an amendment to a student’s IEP is needed for fulltime remote learning. Upon satisfaction of these minimum procedures, the district must approve the student’s fulltime remote learning request.

Scope and Expectations of Fulltime Remote Learning: A student participating in fulltime remote learning must be afforded the same quality and scope of instruction and other educational services as any other student otherwise participating in district programs (e.g. students participating in a hybrid model). This includes, for example, access to standards-based instruction of the same quality and rigor as that afforded all other students of the district. Like in-person and hybrid programs, full-time remote learning must adhere to length of school day requirements, local attendance policies, and any other local policies governing delivery of services to, and district expectations of, students participating in remote programs and their families.

For families/guardians requesting that a service transition from in-person or hybrid delivery to full-time remote delivery, the district must clearly define any additional services, procedures, or expectations that will occur during the transition period. Districts should provide support and resources to assist families/guardians, particularly those of younger students, with meeting the expectations of the district’s remote learning option.

Procedures to Transition from Fulltime Remote Learning to In-Person Services:

Defining the minimum amount of time a student must spend in fulltime remote learning -- before being eligible to transition to in-person services -- will allow families/guardians to make the arrangements needed to effectively serve students’ home learning needs and will support educators in ensuring continuity of instruction.

It is important to clearly define procedures that a family/guardian must follow to submit a request to transition from fulltime remote learning to in-person services, including any relevant timelines, points of contact for questions and concerns, and information or documentation that must accompany a request. School districts that offer Pre-K should consult their Pre-K curriculum providers regarding appropriate measures to assess a Pre-K students’ learning progress during the transition from fulltime remote learning to in-person learning.

Reporting

To evaluate fulltime remote learning, and to continue providing meaningful guidance for districts, it will be important for the NJDOE to understand the extent and nature of demand for fulltime remote learning around the State. Therefore, school districts will be expected to report to the NJDOE data regarding participation in fulltime remote learning. This data will include number of students participating in fulltime remote learning by each of the following subgroups: economically disadvantaged; major racial and ethnic groups; students with disabilities; and English learners.

Procedures for Communicating District Policy with Families:

Clear and frequent communication with families/guardians, in their home language, to help ensure that this important flexibility is as readily accessible as possible. Communication information regarding:

  • Summaries of, and opportunities to review, the district’s fulltime remote learning policy; 
  • Procedures for submitting fulltime remote learning requests; iii. Scope and expectations of fulltime remote learning; 
  • The transition from fulltime remote learning to in-person services and vice-versa; and 
  • The district’s procedures for ongoing communication with families and for addressing families’ questions or concerns.

To review today's NJDOE's update in full, click here. To view the governor's full press conference, click below.