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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Somerville Schools Supt. Dr. Timothy Teehan posted a letter to parents on the school district’s website on Feb. 28th:

“The health and safety of our students and staff are a priority for the Somerville Public School District. As you may be aware, the CDC states that more cases of COVID-19 “are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States.

“As situations evolve, we are prepared to comply with the directions from the State and local health agencies, and we will make adjustments as necessary,” Teehan added.

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 preparedness plan 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, according to the latest leter circulated to local school officials.

 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 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.

This week the NJDOH published additional guidance for childcare agencies and K-12 schools.

The guidance is designed to address concerns among childcare centers, school administrators, athletic coaches, teachers, and parents regarding the impact that COVID-19 may have on their communities.

More information can be found on the NJDOH website. Schools and communities are encouraged to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to prevent the spread of the flu and the common cold, as well as COVID-19.

These recommendations include frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available; avoiding contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding contact with people who are sick; staying home when you are sick and avoiding contact with others; covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing; and routinely cleaning frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Teehan’s letter to parents and the Somerville school community notes that the NJ Department of Health is working closely with the Somerset County Health Department to monitor the situation and is preparing guidance documents for health care professionals to be able to effectively respond to any cases that may be identified in the State.

Teehan’s letter to parents and the Somerville school community notes:

“Our school district has policies in place to guide us through these types of situations. District Policy 5141.2 requires that we comply with all regulations of the State Department of Education and the State Departments of Health, as well as the Somerset County Health Department. District Policy 6173 provides home instruction for students who cannot participate in the regular education program due to temporary health conditions. “

According to the CDC, “While the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is believed to be low at this time, everyone can do their part to help us respond to this emerging public health threat.”

For more information visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention FAQ on Coronavirus website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus