ROXBURY, NJ — The Roxbury School District's plan to partially reopen schools Sept. 8 was among the fewer than 200 that were recently approved by the state, according to officials.

At a press conference today, Gov. Phil Murphy said 736 school plans were submitted to the state Department of Education (DOE). Although a breakdown of school districts was not provided, he offered the following information:

  • 189 of the plans were deemed complete
  • 402 were reviewed and returned to districts for revisions
  • 145 are awaiting review
  • 441 envision a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning
  • 72 districts plan to reopen to all in-person learning
  • 156 districts plan to reopen in all-remote fashion

In an email, Roxbury Schools Business Administrator Joseph Mondanaro said Roxbury's was one of the plans approved by the DOE. Under Roxbury's plan, school buildings - closed since mid-March - will partially reopen to students who choose the district’s hybrid in-school/virtual option.

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Under the hybrid plan, students will go to schools twice weekly for 4-hour sessions that will be augmented by remote teaching and fully virtual Mondays. Parents can also keep children home for 100 percent remote instruction similar to what took place this spring.

Good Numbers, But Not Good Enough

The governor reported several "unquestionably good" coronavirus figures across the state. He cited a rate of transmission (Rt) of .85 — below the key metric of 1.0 for the third day in a row; a daily positivity rate of 1.33 percent (below 2 percent for a fourth consecutive day; and only three deaths statewide.

Nevertheless, Murphy said his ban on all businesses - including restaurants - opening indoors will remain in place. 

“The numbers have been as good as they’ve been since the beginning,” Murphy said. “We keep sustaining this we’re going to get to a lot of the questions that you’re asking about — whether it’s indoor dining, gyms, indoor amusements ... I hope sooner than later we'll have some news on getting to some of the indoor stuff, [but] I’m not going to marry myself to a date yet."

Asked what would need to improve at this point in order to prompt the governor to further lift indoor restrictions, state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said, “I don't think there's a single metric that that is going to tell us when it's going to be safe to begin to reopen. More generally, I think all of us have been watching what is happening. Not just in the rest of the country but in the rest of the world.”

Restaurant Bailout Bill

Meanwhile, a state Senate committee today approved a bill that calls for reimbursing restaurants, bars and caterers "that spent money on supplies in preparation for indoor dining’s return only to have that authorization rescinded," according to state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), who represents Roxbury and co-sponsored the measure.

The bill, S-2704, would fund the reimbursements by appropriating $30 million to the Economic Development Authority from federal block grants allocated to the state from the CARES Act. The EDA would then provide direct financial support, by way of loans or grants, according to the bill.

Restaurants were ready to reopen for indoor dining in early July, but Murphy reversed that directive citing a rise in COVID-19 cases.

“The best thing the state can do for the suffering restaurant industry and its employees is to allow them to open for responsible indoor dining,” said Bucco, who also serves as Roxbury's township counsel. “Restaurants were ready to open on July 2 until the governor changed directions. Now it’s almost two months later, and they are still closed."

He noted that the owners "spent money they didn’t have, often on personal credit cards, to buy food, PPE for staff, and renovate their dining rooms to serve customers safely," asserting the money they spent and losses they incurred, "through no fault of their own, added insult to injury and restaurants deserve to be compensated from the CARES funding for losses they incurred.”

“This false start severely affected the food establishments that hired additional staff and spent money on equipment in anticipation of reopening,” said co-sponsor Sen. Tom Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “These businesses are among the hardest hurt by the pandemic, and they are at risk of permanently going out of business. This will help reimburse the restaurants, bars and catering businesses that have followed the rules to protect the public’s health but are now paying the price.”

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