TRENTON, NJ - If Gov. Phil Murphy decides to re-open New Jersey schools for the last month of the academic year, it will be against the advice of a coalition of statewide education organizations.
Murphy said at his Saturday press briefing that he would announce his decision on Monday.
Responding to a reporter's question at Saturday's press briefing, Murphy said:
"We will give you that guidance on Monday, and we want to make sure we're as complete in our guidance on our next steps as we have been in our other steps that we've taken in education," Murphy said. "The health components are overwhelmingly the most important. And those inform, in addition to, by the way, the fact that we wear as a badge of honor the number one public education system in America, among the very best private schools in America.
"We care deeply about that," Murphy continued." We care about our educators, our kids, our parents. We want to make sure we get this right. Health their health, all of their health, is our concern number one. We'll be back to you and we will give you guidance, I think, with almost virtual certainty on Monday as to what the next steps are.".
The governor had issued an executive order closing the state's schools on March 16 and on April 7, extended the order until May 15th in an effort to impede the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) through social distancing.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of students in elementary, middle and high schools have adapted to distance learning, with teachers providing lessons online to their students.
Despite altering the traditional classroom setting in favor of high-tech home schooling, the Leadership for Educational Excellence, a coalition of six prominent New Jersey education organizations, told Murphy in an April 28 letter that re-opening the schools is ill-advised because of logistical challenges and other considerations.
It also points out that re-opening the schools contradicts a major component of Murphy's detailed blueprint for returning the state to normalcy, released by the governor one day before the educators sent their letter to the Governor's office.
The letter is signed by the leaders of the NJ School Boards Association; New Jersey Association of School Administrators; New Jersey Education Association; New Jersey Association of School Business Officials; New Jersey Principals & Supervisors Association and the New Jersey PTA.
The text of the letter follows:
Dear Governor Murphy:
Leadership for Educational Excellence (LEE), a coalition of the state’s major education organizations dedicated to the education and welfare of New Jersey students, urges you to keep Executive Order 107 in effect, as it applies to school closings, through the month of June—that is, for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
Our organizations, which represent all stakeholder groups in K-12 public education, are in complete agreement with the cautious, data-centered approach to reopening the state’s businesses and services as reflected in “The Road Back: Restoring Economic Health Through Public Health,” released on April 27. Considering the six principles/metrics in the plan and current data on the incidence of COVID-19, the LEE group does not believe that districts will be in the position to reopen during the current school year.
We are especially concerned about recent statements indicating that schools may still reopen this spring. It sends a mixed message to students, parents and educators and is at odds with the sound reasoning behind “The Road Back” blueprint.
Reopening schools presents serious challenges that are far more complex than even those involved in closing schools and moving to online instruction. These include, but are certainly not limited to, readjusting curriculum, designing remediation for students who may have fallen behind during the closure, and accommodating social distancing and other preventive measures in the classroom, in cafeterias and gymnasiums, on school buses, and during extra-curricular activities.
Above all else, parents, students and school staff must be assured that health will not be compromised when schools reopen. The current data do not indicate that we can provide such assurance if schools reopen in the spring.
Addressing these challenges will require thoughtful planning and must involve all segments of the education community. We are just beginning these conversations within LEE, with the NJDOE, with the State Legislature and, we hope, with your staff. Therefore, it is in the best interests of our students that the LEE organizations be involved in the establishment of criteria to reopen schools and in the state’s plan to guide the process.
The leaders of the LEE organizations offer our expertise and perspective as New Jersey continues to face this public health emergency. We urge you to ensure that our member organizations are involved in state-level discussions of the reopening of schools. We would welcome a member of your education policy staff to join us at one of our weekly LEE meetings, held each Monday, to begin this discussion. It is only through a thoughtful, collaborative conversation on these complex issues that we will reach the best decision for New Jersey’s students and the entire school community.
Thank you for your steadfast support of our schools, our students, and our educators.
Michael R. McClure, president, and Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director, NJ School Boards Association;
Dr. Scott Rocco, president, and Dr. Richard Bozza, executive eirector, NJ Association of School Administrators;
Marie Blistan, president, and Steven Swetsky, executive director, New Jersey Education Association;
Diane S. Fox, president. and Susan Young, executive director. New Jersey Association of School Business Officials;
Karen Bingert, president and Patricia Wright, executive director, New Jersey Principals & Supervisors Association;
Cathy Lindenbaum, president, New Jersey PTA.
Murphy signed Executive Order No. 104, on March 16 implementing aggressive social distancing measures to mitigate further spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey.
Effective March 18, the order closed all public and private preschool, elementary and secondary schools, and institutions of higher education, as well as closes all casinos, racetracks, gyms, movie theaters, and performing arts centers. The order also mandates that all non-essential retail, recreational, and entertainment businesses must cease daily operations from 8 p.m.-5 a.m. All restaurant establishments, with or without a liquor license, have been limited to offering only delivery and/or take out-services only, both during daytime hours and after 8 p.m.
“In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, we must take aggressive and direct social distancing action to curtail non-essential activities in the state; our paramount priority is to ‘flatten the curve’ of new cases, so we do not overwhelm our health care system and overload our health care professionals who are on the front lines of the response," Murphy said.