Schools must certify to the DOE that they are able to meet health and safety standards

"We know the first day of school is not going to be like any other." -- Gov. Phil Murphy

TRENTON -- At his COVID press briefing today, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that he would sign an Executive Order officially clearing both our public and nonpublic pre-K through 12 schools and our colleges and universities to reopen for upcoming academic year. However, any student who chooses to continue remote learning must be accommodated.

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The governor made this announcement despite a statement from the teachers, principals and administrators unions last night seeking for public schools to open remotely this fall.

Related: Teachers, Principals, and Administrators Call for Statewide Remote Learning to Start the School Year

"In-person instruction may fully resume as long as social distancing and other protections are strictly adhered to," Murphy said.

The governor said that New Jersey’s system of education has long been rooted in local control and decision-making based on local input and that for the past six weeks "we’ve relied upon the work of local educational communities to determine the best way for their schools to reopen."

"We’ve provided significant flexibility while also adjusting expectations based on the latest science and data," Murphy added. "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."

The governor today announced that school districts that cannot meet all health and safety standards for safe in-person instruction will begin their school year with all-remote learning. In order to do so, the 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. 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," Murphy said. "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 Dept. of Education (DOE) 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 DOE that they are able to meet these standards.

"There is no one-size-fits-all plan to this difficult education situation," Murphy said. "We are home to nearly 600 public school districts, plus charter & renaissance schools, nonpublic & parochial schools, and other specialized places of learning. Each one faces its own unique challenges."

COVID by the Numbers

Gov. Murphy today announced 484 new positive COVID-19 test results, raising the state's cumulative total since March 4 to 185,938. He also reported nine new confirmed coronavirus deaths, for a total of 14,046 lives lost in New Jersey. Of those nine deaths, there was one each of the four days between Aug. 6 and Aug. 9. (The other 5 range in dates from July 16 to Aug. 3. The number of "probable" deaths has been adjusted to 1,839.)

Currently, there are 592 patients in New Jersey hospitals (296 COVID-positive patients and 296 patients listed as "persons under investigation" pending the return of test results). Of those patients, 111 are in ICUs and 35 are on ventilators.

The percent positivity rate for tests from Aug. 8 was 2.09%, while the rate of transmission currently sits at 0.92. (The target rate is 1.0 or lower.) These numbers are down significantly since the height of the pandemic in April, as the accompanying charts indicate.