In the wake of two North Jersey residents testing positive for the coronavirus, the state Senate introduced bipartisan legislation allowing school districts to continue educating students remotely.
The proposed legislation would allow one or more days of virtual or remote instruction to count towards the 180-day requirement in the event a school district is required to close schools for more than three school days due to an epidemic, weather or other emergency condition. Those days would count for the purposes of graduation requirements and the awarding of course credits.
“Given current concerns about the coronavirus and extended school closures that have occurred in other places around the world, it makes sense for New Jersey to update our plans to ensure that education can continue in the event of a disruption to the regular school schedule,” said Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R-Bergen/Passaic), a sponsor of the bill.
The bill was proposed before the state advised all public schools to plan for building closures during a potential coronavirus outbreak. In the advisory, the state stated it will count “home instruction” days toward the required 180-day school year if districts are ordered to close by state or local health officials.
The state informed superintendents home instruction can include online learning or other means developed by the district to meet the needs of its students.
Every district must create a plan for providing equitable instruction, including appropriate special education services, submitted to the county superintendent for approval.
Reaching 180 Days
Most schools have some level of ability to offer remote learning, but what is missing is a clear authorization for e-learning days to count towards the 180-day school requirement. Under current law, school districts must provide public school facilities for at least 180 days during the preceding school year from July 1 to June 30 to be eligible for State school aid.
“It’s something we must address proactively before it becomes a necessity,” stated Cardinale.
While the law allows the Commissioner of Education to remit the penalty for good cause shown,” the State has firmly held schools provide in-school education for a school day to count, even when online learning tools are available.
Need to Prepare
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” said Sen. Jim Beach (D-Burlington/Essex). “I am glad the Legislature is already preparing for the possibility of New Jersey closing schools for an extended period of time. If that happens, this bill gives the school system the flexibility to continue their education remotely and ensures our youth will have the ability to meet the school-day requirements for the 2019-2020 school year.”
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-Union/Somerset/Morris) is worried school districts might feel pressured to keep students in classrooms to meet the 180-day requirement.
“If we have the ability to limit the risk to both our children and their teachers while continuing their education, that’s something that would be smart to do,” remarked Sen. Kean. “We must plan for the time when we may need to act.”
The proposed law requires the commissioner to set the standards for remote education, including students who may not have access to a computer or the Internet and provide guidance to districts on how to meet the needs of students who depend on school lunch and breakfast programs.
Public health concerns related to the current outbreak of novel coronavirus, have led to weeks-long school closures internationally as well as as Washington State and New York in an attempt to stem the spread of the highly contagious disease. An estimated 300 million students worldwide are missing class due to school closures related to the coronavirus epidemic.