As the debate rages on over whether schools should reopen this fall despite the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Phil Murphy will announce later Wednesday that New Jersey public schools will have the option to start the school year without in-person tuition NJ Advance Media has confirmed that if they meet certain criteria.
Murphy’s office told CBS News that it “will today announce a plan to enable distance learning as an option,” according to a report on CBS This Morning early Wednesday. A source with knowledge of the problem confirmed the report to NJ Advance Media.
“Districts are expected to continue working with the DOE to get to the point where they can offer a personal experience. Districts are expected to be required to communicate to the department what hurdles they face in providing personal education and when they will be working to resolve those hurdles, “the source said. “The goal is still to have as much personal learning as possible in the state.”
The CBS report found schools in Elizabeth, one of the counties, that defied state guidelines and came up with a plan to reopen the school without in-person tuition because local officials said they did not have enough teachers willing to put in the classrooms to return.
Murphy is expected to make the formal announcement at his final COVID-19 briefing in Trenton at 1:00 p.m. Kevin Dehmer, the state’s interim education commissioner, is expected to appear.
The move is a major change in the guidelines originally proposed by the Murphy administration in June. After ending the final school year with three months of virtual learning, the state urged all 2,500 New Jersey public schools to offer at least some face-to-face classes when the new school year kicks off in the coming weeks – albeit with restrictions like masking and social distancing.
The state also urged the districts to give parents the opportunity to learn everything about the children from a distance.
However, some local officials, educators and union leaders have put increasing pressure to keep schools closed as COVID-19 continues to hit New Jersey – or at least allow districts to open all-remotely.
Leaders from the state’s largest teachers’ union and groups representing school administrators issued a joint statement Wednesday night calling on Murphy and the state Department of Education to remotely open all New Jersey schools this fall over health concerns about the virus.
“For months, educators and administrators in New Jersey have worked tirelessly to find a way to get students safely back to school buildings in September. Now, less than a month before the schools are scheduled to reopen, it is time to grudgingly acknowledge that the goal is simply not achievable, ”said Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; and Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association.
“The reopening of schools for personal tuition in current conditions poses too great a risk to the health of students and school staff,” they continued.
“We fully support and share the governor’s goal of moving to face-to-face tuition once the science and data indicate we can do it responsibly and when the resources are available in our school buildings to do it safely,” added the union leaders added.
Some educators and officials have warned that there may not be enough teachers to teach in person because teachers are not teaching in person for fear of contracting the virus.
The school board in Elizabeth – New Jersey’s fourth largest community – voted Monday to start the school year with remote classes despite state guidelines, as 375 of their teachers have stated they will not be physically returning to school. The plan would have to be approved by the state.
On the flip side, many parents, officials, and President Donald Trump have pushed for schools across the country to reopen. Many argue that students do not get the same education in online classes and many parents cannot be home because of work.
Murphy was asked Monday if parents and educators should expect school schedules to change in New Jersey.
“There is no news about schools today,” replied the governor. “We take all input from everyone involved very seriously, and as I said, there is tremendous passion on all sides.”
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So far, COVID-19 has not had such a major impact on children compared to older people with pre-existing medical conditions.
However, opponents of return to school say children could pass the virus on to teachers and administrators. They also argue that it is still unclear how the virus will affect children.
A poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University published last month found New Jersey people are divided on this issue. The survey found that 46% of Garden State adults say schools should reopen with protective measures, while 42% say students should continue distance learning until there is COVID-19 treatment or a vaccine.
The uncertainty comes from the fact that New Jersey, once a coronavirus hotspot, continues to trend its numbers in the right direction. On Tuesday, the state reported 14 COVID-19-related deaths and 498 new cases, while the transmission rate remained below the key value of 1 for the second straight day. These numbers are significantly lower than the state’s peak in mid-April.
But Murphy said Monday it was still too risky to let restaurants reopen for indoor dining, and said the idea of people sitting without a mask without strong ventilation is still an issue.
He also continued to urge residents to socially distance themselves and wear masks to ensure the numbers don’t rise again and to prevent more deaths.
“Please don’t get complacent,” said the governor. “The virus is out there.”
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