The full Assembly passed a bill allowing virtual and remote learning to meet the 180-day instruction requirement for school districts in the case of emergencies. The legislative body passed the bill by a 55-0-9 tally March 16.
The proposed law will allow the standard to be applied during a declared state of emergency, public health emergency, or when a directive of the appropriate health agency or officer to close schools is given. Further, it has provisions for approved private schools for students with disabilities during a public health emergency.
The bill garnered bipartisan support in the Assembly. Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen, Passaic) advocated for the safety of the students first and foremost.
“With many schools closing or near closing, it’s vitally important to make sure we institute a plan so the education process can continue, from home if need, and grant the school districts the ability to make the choice to continue their student’s learning process remotely,” she said.
Assembly Democrats praised the bill, saying that total school closures were close to imminent. Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem) noted schools had to focus on keeping students safe.
“At the end of the day, schools should not feel compelled to keep children in classes if they would be safer learning from home,” he said.
Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington) echoed these sentiments, saying the closing of schools was an unwanted but necessary disruption.
“Whether we’re talking about the coronavirus or something else, this measure is important in helping schools develop a plan to navigate any major emergency that comes their way,” she said.
The bill is similar to legislation introduced in the Senate. The Senate bill would waive the 180-day requirement for instruction in the case of an epidemic, weather event, or other emergency closure.