TRENTON, NJ – Closing New Jersey’s schools in favor of online/home instruction is one of several measures under consideration by the state Department of Education to help blunt the spread of the Coronavirus, with more than 100,000 people worldwide infected.

Four persons have tested positive for the Coronavirus in New Jersey, three in Bergen County and one in Camden County. Their test data has been forwarded to the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for confirmation. Another 11 New Jersey residents have been tested, with negative results, according to state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

State DOE Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet and his staff have been reaching out to school districts throughout the state all week via conference calls and face-to-face meetings to develop a comprehensive strategy.

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The NJDOE is asking each school district to develop a preparedness plan for the provision of home instruction to students in the event of a closure.

The Hillsborough school district continues to work with the state DOE, according to Acting Schools Supt. Dr. Lisa M. Atunes,

“The Hillsborough Township School District is following the advice of the New Jersey Department of Education, as well as state and local health departments,  Atunes said in a letter posted to the school district's website on Feb. 28th. “The New Jersey Department of Health is monitoring information received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and is working closely with our county health department to monitor the situation and is preparing guidance documents for healthcare professionals.

“Our school nurses have received up-to-date information from the National Association of School Nurses on how to lead health promotion and disease prevention efforts during this time. Not surprisingly, much of this information is very similar to other causes of respiratory illness, including the flu,” she continued..

“Currently, district administrators are working on plans for how we may support students and maintain instruction in the event of a district-wide, long-term closure, Atunes said.

"We will continue to provide excellent and appropriate educational opportunities for children and will remain focused in this endeavor. Should your child(ren) become upset or display increased anxiety or concern about these current events, please encourage him/her to seek the assistance of a trusted adult, including the school counselor,  she added.

The DOE is recommending the preparedness plan of each school district should also address the provision of appropriate special education and other services to students with disabilities and the provision of school nutrition benefits or services to eligible students, according to the DOE.

While there are no immediate plans to implement such a system, health officials may also call for a tiered system of social distancing in schools, possibly limiting certain functions such as sports events and assemblies in order to limit the risk of exposure, according to Repollet.

On Friday, the DOE issued its latest guidance on the outbreak, including an update on potential closures and other measures:

“While the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in New Jersey remains low, the NJDOE has issued guidance to increase flexibility for districts to provide home instruction in the event of mandated public health school closures related to COVID-19.

“Home instruction may include online instruction or through a contract with a neighboring school district. The guidance provides that “any day in which students impacted by a public health-related closure have access to home instruction services provided consistent with the guidance will count as a day in which the board of education has provided public school facilities toward its compliance with the 180-day requirement.”

New Jersey law requires that school districts provide 180 days of classroom instruction annually

 Any public health-related closures of schools would be instituted following a written directive by either the New Jersey Department of Health or the health officer of the jurisdiction, according to the DOE advisory issued Friday.

Repollet was joined on a conference call with hundreds of local school superintendents earlier this week by Gov. Phil Murphy and Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. Repollet also met with school superintendents on Thursday afternoon to discuss school preparedness and planning in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The DOE directive sent to local school officials on Friday includes the following:

“If a student or staff member is suspected to have been exposed to COVID-19, the chief school administrator or authorized designee should immediately contact local health officials to discuss the appropriate response, including possible dismissal of students or temporary closure.

“Our county offices of education are our boots on the ground. I am maintaining frequent direct contact with our Executive County Superintendents, so we ask that districts direct their questions to our county offices of education. The better we communicate, the more efficiently we can disseminate factual and timely information,” said Repollet said, adding, “we must also do our part to combat infectious disease-related stigmas toward specific populations or nationalities.

“Bullying and harassment hurt everyone and we should all recommit to combating the spread of fear and misinformation about COVID-19,” Repollet said.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following:.

Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available; avoid contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid contact with people who are sick; stay home when you are sick and avoid contact with others; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing; and routinely clean frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The Hillsborough school district offers these suggestions for parents:

"Keep your child(ren) home from school if they are sick; if you or members of your family have recently visited those parts of the world identified as encountering higher rates of infection (China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, France, Iran, Hong Kong, etc.) and are experiencing symptoms of a respiratory illness, please reach out to the local health department as well as your school nurse, and seek immediate medical attention."

Coronavirus updates will be posted on the Hillsborough school district website, htps.us