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NJDOE Stresses Flexibility in Delivering 20/21 School Year Guidance

The Murphy Administration rolled out guidance to assist New Jersey schools open their 2020/2021 academic school year.

The guidance assumes, absent a change in public health data, public schools will resume in-person instruction and operations in some capacity at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) representatives stressed final decisions will be made at the local level. 

“We are pleased to announce that we anticipate the return to our classrooms in some capacity this fall,” said Gov. Phil Murphy at his daily press briefing June 26. “The return to school will pose challenges, but we are confident that New Jersey’s school districts can move forward in a way that best serves the needs of their district while also achieving a safe environment for students and staff.”

Multiple Plans

NJDOE officials want districts to be prepared to pivot to remote instruction at any time during the 2020-2021 school year in case of a second wave of the coronavirus. The guidance stresses that each school district should be working to ensure every student has a device and internet connectivity available, and it identifies funding streams available to school districts to ensure students have access to technology.

The guidance envisions schools operating within necessary standards to protect the health and safety of students and staff, offering minimum standards for social distancing in classrooms and face covering measures for students and staff. Additionally, ther plan provides recommendations to assist districts in achieving these standards, such as implementing hybrid learning environments in which students receive both in-person and remote instruction. 

NJDOE officials said each district will develop a plan to reopen schools in the fall that best fits the district’s local needs. The guidance provides minimum standards regarding health and safety that districts are to use as they plan for reopening. 

Local Input

“I understand this will be no easy feat,” NJDOE Commissioner Lamont Repollet said. “Knowing that the health of students and staff is our number one concern, our guide will begin to fill in the picture of what a safe education system will look like in the fall.” 

Officials said they engaged in regular contact with educators and stakeholders in devising the guidance, conducting daily site visits, weekly stakeholder meetings and discussions with a standing committee of nearly two dozen superintendents. Beyond this ongoing engagement, the NJDOE convened approximately 50 education and community organizations, met with over 300 superintendents, and surveyed nearly 300,000 parents/guardians to inform the development of the reopening plan. 

Back to Classroom

Repollet noted that “too many” parents feel remote-only instruction was not beneficial for their child, causing students to fall behind.

“It is becoming abundantly clear that children need to return to a school environment in some capacity, and we need to do so safely,” said Repollet. “This is a matter of educational growth, and it’s a matter of equity.”

The guidance describes several health and safety standards to be prioritized in school reopening:  

  • Social distancing: Schools and districts must allow for social distancing within the classroom. This can be achieved by ensuring students are seated at least six feet apart. If schools are not able to maintain this physical distance, additional modifications should be considered. These include physical barriers between desks and turning desks to face the same direction or having students sit on only one side of a table and spaced apart.
  • Face coverings: School staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or the individual is under two years of age. Students are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and are required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained, unless doing so would inhibit the student’s health. 
  • Limited capacity: Besides maintaining at least six feet apart in a classroom, windows should be opened to allow for greater air circulation when applicable.
  • Cleaning/disinfecting: Procedures must be implemented by each school district for the sanitization of school buildings and school buses. Increased handwashing measures are also important for students and staff.

New Lunch, Bus Rules

Other provisions in the guidance include cafeterias staggering meal times, discontinuing self-serve or buffet lines; having students eat meals outside or in their classrooms; recess held in staggered shifts; schools cohorting students and staff; and school bus operators should encourage social distancing, with one student seated per row, skipping a row between each child, if possible.

The districts are to share preliminary scheduling plans with all concerned parties a month before the start of the school year in order to allow families to plan child care and work arrangements.

Schools are expected to open on time in late August or early September, but can make changes to delay the opening date as long as students go to school the 180 days required by the state.

Daily Data

As of June 26, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 170,584 with 524 new cases and 44 new deaths, bringing that total to 13,060. The state is reporting an additional 1,854 deaths as probably, bringing the overall total to 14,914.

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,778, followed by Bergen at 1,718, Hudson with 1,274, Passaic at 1,029, Morris at 646, Sussex at 154 and Warren with 144.

In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 263, Essex has 237, Hudson has 171, Passaic has 148, Morris has 146, Sussex has 37 and Warren has 11.

State Testing 

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of June 22 decreased to 2.1%. The state is no longer using serology tests as health officials explained those results show a past presence of the disease as well as a current one. By region, the north tested at 1.7%, the central at 1.8% and the south 3.8%. 

The rate of transmission rose for a decline from the previous day to 0.86. Murphy has noted that while the rate was still below 1.0, he was concerned it was rising in 16 counties. 

Officials reported 1,118 patients are hospitalized with coronavirus—which included 59 new hospitalizations—while 114 patients were discharged. The north tier had 504 patients hospitalized, the central 351 and the south 263.

The daily discharge and new hospitalizations by tier for June 26 was the north charting 38 hospitalizations and 42 discharges, the central having 11 hospitalizations and 39 discharges, and the south reporting 10 hospitalizations and 32 discharges.   

Of those hospitalized, 234 are in intensive care units and 206 on ventilators. 

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most cumulative cases in the state with 19,264, followed by Hudson at 18,788, Essex at 18,666, Passaic at 16,843, Middlesex at 16,685, Union at 16,356, Ocean at 9,535, Monmouth at 9,057, Mercer at 7,621, Camden at 7,245, Morris at 6,698, Burlington at 5,092, Somerset at 4,831, Cumberland at 2,925, Atlantic at 2,811, Gloucester at 2,531, Warren at 1,225, Sussex at 1,185, Hunterdon at 1,065, Salem at 754 and Cape May at 706.

Another 706 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

Demographic Breakdown

The racial breakdown of the record deaths was 54% White, 20% Hispanic, 18% Black, 6% Asian and 2% another race. Murphy has noted the rates in the black and Hispanic communities are running about 50% more than their population in the state. 

In regards to the underlying disease of those who have passed, 56% had cardiovascular disease, 45% diabetes, 31% other chronic diseases, 18% neurological conditions, 17% lung diseases, 15% chronic renal disease, 10% cancer and 14% other. Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli has stated most cases have multiple underlying conditions which would push the percentage of 100%.

A census of ages for confirmed deaths shows 47% of deaths are of those 80 year old and up, 33% in the range of 65-80, 16% between 50-65 and 5% under the age of 49. 

State officials are tracking cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children who in turn  test positive for COVID-19. Two new cases were reported June 26, the total reaching 47 for children ranging in age from 1-18. All have tested positive for COVID-19 or have antibodies in their blood. Five are currently hospitalized. No deaths have been reported from the disease. 

Persichilli stated “Black and Hispanic children account for a disproportionately high number” on a national scale. While only a small sample, the racial breakdown in New Jersey was 36% Hispanic, 33% Black, 18% White, 8% Asian and 3% other.

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 557 long-term care facilities are reporting at least one case of COVID-19 and accounted for 36,316 of the cases, broken down between 24,058 residents and 12,258 staff. The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 6,331 on June 26. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,484 residents deaths and 133 staff deaths. 

In a by-county breakdown:  

Bergen County

  • 63  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 3268 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 1722 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 920  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 11  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Essex County

  • 46  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 2183 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 1038 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 567  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 20  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Morris County

  • 42  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 1430 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 708 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 484  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 3  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Passaic County

  • 25  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 1275 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 767 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 383  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 15  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Hudson County 

  • 15  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 1000 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 535 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 249  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 8  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Sussex County

  • 7  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 259 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 148 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 108  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 7  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

Warren County 

  • 7  Facilities with Outbreaks
  • 408 Total Resident Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 135 Total Staff Cases at Long Term Care Facilities 
  • 119  Resident Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities
  • 1  Staff Deaths reported by Long Term Care Facilities

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