TRENTON, NJ — The governor of New Jersey plans to sign an executive order that officially clears both public and nonpublic schools—including grades Pre-K through 12 as well as all colleges and universities—to fully resume in-person instruction for the upcoming academic year so long as they strictly adhere to social distancing and other protections and also provide accommodations for any students who choose to continue learning remotely.
The announcement was made during Gov Phil Murphy's COVID-19 press briefing on Wednesday, shortly after the state teachers, principals and administrators unions issued a statement urging Murphy to resume all-remote instruction for New Jersey public schools this fall.
Noting that New Jersey’s education system has long been rooted in local control and decision-making based on local input, Murphy stated that his administration has "relied upon the work of local educational communities" over the past six weeks in order to determine the best way to reopen the schools.
"We’ve provided significant flexibility while also adjusting expectations based on the latest science and data," said Murphy. "At every twist and turn in the road, we’ve been willing to listen, to learn, and to act accordingly. This clear principle has guided us from the very start—we are flexible because we value listening. We are listening because we value flexibility."
He also announced on Thursday that school districts that cannot meet all health and safety standards for safe in-person instruction will be required to begin their school year with all-remote learning. In order to reopen in person, a public school district must: (1) show plans for satisfying the standards and (2) provide an anticipated date to resume in-person instruction.
"Our commitment to meeting the conditions on the ground with flexibility has not changed," said Murphy. "Our focus on protecting students, families, and educators has not changed.
"When our schools open in September, they must be ready to safely provide the high-quality education to all students that is a hallmark of New Jersey. We know the first day of school is not going to be like any other in our history. We’re fully committed to getting this right."
The governor said that the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has put forth strong guidelines that put a premium on the health and safety of students and staff while providing avenues by which in-person instruction can safely resume. He said that public and nonpublic schools must certify to the NJDOE that they are able to meet these standards.
"There is no one-size-fits-all plan to this difficult education situation," said Murphy. "We are home to nearly 600 public school districts, plus charter and renaissance schools, nonpublic and parochial schools, and other specialized places of learning. Each one faces its own unique challenges."
As of Monday's press conference, there were 484 new positive COVID-19 test results reported, bringing the state's cumulative total since March 4 to 185,938. Murphy also reported nine new confirmed coronavirus deaths for a total of 14,046 lives lost in New Jersey as a result of COVID-19. (The number of "probable" deaths has been adjusted to 1,839.)
According to the governor, there are currently 592 patients in New Jersey hospitals, including 296 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and 296 patients who are listed as "persons under investigation" pending the return of test results. Of those patients, there were 111 in intensive care and 35 on ventilators as of Monday.
The percent positivity rate for tests from Aug. 8 was 2.09 percent, while the rate of transmission currently sits at 0.92. The governor reiterated that the target rate is 1.0 or lower, and that both numbers are down significantly since the height of the pandemic in April.
Accompanying charts indicate the current statewide COVID-19 statistics, and Monday's briefing can be seen in its entirety below: