New Jersey schools will return to in-person learning in September under new guidelines
New Jersey schools will open for in-person learning in September, but what that will look like for each of the state’s school districts will likely be vastly different.
The Department of Education released new guidelines for the re-opening of New Jersey schools, which Gov. Phil Murphy announced during his daily press briefing on Friday afternoon. The guidance sets the baseline of standards that must be met, but individual districts will have to decide how their schools can best implement the required changes.
Social distancing will be the guiding principle. Students will have to stay six feet apart when in classrooms and on buses. Faculty and staff must wear face coverings and students will be strongly encouraged to wear face coverings throughout the day and will be required to wear them when social distancing cannot be maintained.
There is no one plan that will fit the needs for each and every school district, so state officials said districts will have to come up with their own proposals that meet or exceed the minimum standards. Schedules and start times could change, especially for large districts that have crowded buildings and large class sizes.
All districts must have some form of in-person instruction and district-wide remote learning will not occur. Class sizes should be limited to ensure the ability to socially distance. Large districts could rearrange schedules to allow for grouping or cohering of students or by implementing hybrid learning of both in-person and remote instruction. Families could opt-out of in-person learning and instead continue remote learning, state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said in response to a question during the press briefing.
The guidelines also state that any districts which change their schedules should announce those changes at least one month before the first day of school so that families can make plans.
State officials also cautioned that districts must prepare for the possibility to a return to remote learning at any time if COVID-19 infections rise.
The new guidelines include:
- All faculty and staff and visitors must wear face coverings unless they cannot for health reasons. Students must wear masks when they are unable to stay six feet apart and are encouraged, but not required, to wear face coverings for the duration of the school day.
- Social distancing must take place as much as possible and when that is unable to happen, districts are encouraged to consider physical barriers between desks and on buses.
- Schools will need to set up a plan for screening students and faculty for COVID-19 symptoms along with working with school nurses and local health departments to use contract tracing to identify people who have come in contact with any individuals who test positive.
- Cafeterias will be open for much but meal times must be staggered to allow for social distancing. Self-service and buffet-style food services will not be permitted.
- Gym class and recess will take place but group sizes must be limited and areas must be marked off to ensure a safe physical distance of six feet. There will be no contact sports allowed during recess or gym class. Locker rooms will be closed. Playgrounds and other equipment must be disinfected between uses.
- Floors and sidewalks should have tape and signs to guide how and where students should walk to maintain social distancing while in hallways and common areas.
How this affects high school sports remains to be seen. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has stated it is planning for a fall sports season unless it is otherwise told not to. Last week, the state’s governing body announced its Phase 1 guidelines for returning to play.
NJSIAA Chief Operating Officer Colleen Maguire released a video message on Thursday where she said the 2020-2021 sports season and the school year will not look the same as in prior years.
“While I do not have a crystal ball to predict how the season will be different, we can be assured there will be changes,” Maguire said. “For instance, you may not be able to play as many games, you may not be traveling as much, or your season could start later or end earlier.”
David Frazier, the Chair of the NJISAA’s COVID-19 Sports Advisory Task Force released a statement on Friday regarding the relationship between schools returning and high school sports restarting.
“Today we anticipate the release of “The Road Back – Restart and Recovery Plan for Education” during the Governor’s daily press briefing,” Frazier said. “The return to school plan will be key to the Task Force’s efforts in identifying dates for both the start of all practices and competition. It is reasonable to expect a delay to the start of regular season practice dates; however, it is too early to provide any time frame surrounding a potential delay. There are many stakeholders that will be involved with these decisions so we appreciate your patience while we navigate these conversations.”
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