TRENTON, NJ — Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet provided guidance for the reopening of schools in the fall during the governor's daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton on Friday.

The Livingston Public Schools district had already begun planning for several scenarios in anticipation of the state's official guidelines, which will require all schools to resume in-person instruction in some capacity. CLICK HERE to learn more about how Livingston is addressing the reopening procedures. 

"As we conclude the most unprecedented school year in the most unprecedented times, our focus turns to what will be an equally unprecedented start to the 2020-2021 school year," said Murphy.

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The state's plan as discussed on Friday focuses on four principles:

  1. Ensuring a conducive learning atmosphere 
  2. Supporting educational leaders with planning
  3. Providing policy guidance and necessary funding to schools
  4. Securing continuity of learning

Conditions for Learning (Health and Safety)

According to the state's guidelines, conditions for learning must not only address students’ and educators’ basic physical safety needs, but also the social and emotional and environmental factors that can impact educators’ capacity to teach and students’ capacity to learn. 

All New Jersey school districts must adopt a policy for screening students and employees for symptoms of COVID-19 and history of exposure and must strive for social distancing within the classroom and on school buses.

Any schools that are not able to maintain physical distance should have additional modifications should in place, including physical barriers between desks and turning desks to face the same direction.

Each school district must also adopt cleaning and disinfecting procedures. 

School staff and visitors will be required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health. Students will be strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained. 

Leadership and Planning

According to the state's guidelines, all districts should create "Restart Committees" that include administrators, board of education members, educators, parents and students to coordinate the overall reopening plan. 

The Restart Committee will be expected to work closely with the district's Pandemic Response Teams, health departments and others in municipal and county government to develop district plans.

The NJDOE recommends that districts also address the following: 

  • Scheduling — Districts’ reopening plans must account for resuming in-person instruction in some capacity. Scheduling decisions should be informed by evaluation of the health and safety standards and guidance from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) as well the stakeholder input on the unique needs of each district. Polices for attendance and instructional time may require modifications for the 2020-21 academic year.
     
  • Staffing — Regardless of the environment, school districts should clearly communicate with teachers regarding expectations and support for student learning. Reopening plans and decision-making throughout the school year should consider access to technology, social and emotional health and child care concerns. Staff roles must expand to accommodate new health and safety regulations, including hallway traffic, to follow safety guidelines. 
     
  • Athletics — The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) has established a COVID-19 Medical Advisory Task Force responsible for providing guidance to allow high school student-athletes to return to athletics as soon and as safely as possible. An NJSIAA Sports Advisory Task Force comprised of athletic directors from across New Jersey will review state and local health guidelines as well as NJDOE guidance for the 2020-21 school year to determine the extent to which changes may be needed for each sports season. 

Districts have been urged to share their scheduling plans with staff, families and students at least four weeks prior to the start of the school year to allow families to plan child care and work arrangements.

Policy and Funding

According to the state guidelines, readying facilities, purchasing supplies and transporting and feeding students will look drastically different in the upcoming school year than in the past. 

As of this weekend, the NJDOE recommendations are as follows: 

  • Purchasing — School districts will likely need to purchase items not needed in the past (i.e. personal protective equipment or sanitizing supplies) and may experience increased demand for previously purchased goods and services. Districts collaborate to create new arrangements that will allow them to purchase items at a lower cost by either purchasing through an established State contract or through a cooperative purchasing consortium.
     
  • Use of Reserve Accounts, Transfers and Cashflow — To the greatest extent possible, districts should consider making expenditures from various accounts or over budgeted line items to meet unanticipated costs and to manage their cash flow. School districts may be able to use funds on deposit in their emergency reserve accounts to finance unanticipated expenses that arise as a result of COVID-19. A district would need the NJDOE Commissioner’s approval to make a withdrawal from this account.
     
  • Costs and Contracting — Districts are strongly encouraged to participate in the federal E-rate program, which provides schools and libraries with funding support for high-speed broadband connectivity and internal connection equipment.

To ease the burden on schools, the NJDOE plans to leverage existing and pending federal and state legislation, regulations and guidance to predict the potential impact on districts and provide targeted assistance.

Continuity of Learning

According to the state guidelines, ensuring continuity of learning is critical during this time. The degree to which districts will be able to return students to brick-and-mortar education remains uncertain.

The NJDOE anticipates that many students likely made less than one full year of academic growth during the 2019-20 school year. According to the NJDOE, the move to a fully virtual learning environment happened quickly and created significant challenges for staff and students—particularly students already considered "at-risk" prior to the pandemic.

Districts should work closely with their stakeholders to ensure decisions are made collaboratively and transparently and prioritize safely returning students who are most in need of in-person instruction.

To download the full 104-page report, entitled "The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education," click here.

"We have every expectation that our kids will return to their schools come September," said Murphy. "Today's guidance comes with one overarching requirement: that our public schools will open in some capacity with the health of students, their families, and educators being the top priority."

As is part of his daily practice, the also governor announced the state's COVID-19 totals as of Friday morning:

  • 1,118 patients in New Jersey hospitals
  • 234 patients in either critical or intensive care
  • 206 ventilators in use
  • 59 COVID-19 patients admitted
  • 114 live patients discharged

"We are still in the fight," said Murphy. "We are still in the war. We have gone through hell. Remember this is the fight of our lives. We need to continue to be vigilant to ensure we don’t fall back. Keep up with social distancing, wearing a face covering and taking personal responsibility."