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Districts Now Allowed to Start School Year Fully Online in New Jersey

New Jersey school districts will be allowed to start the 2020/2021 school year online.

After announcing that he would sign an executive order clearing public schools, colleges and universities to reopen for the upcoming academic year, Gov. Phil Murphy said schools districts that cannot meet all health and safety standards as a result of the coronavirus will be allowed to start their school year with all-remote learning.

Public school districts must show plans how they plan to address the standards in addition to an anticipated date to resume in-person instruction in order to receive the waiver.

“Throughout the summer, we’ve continued to work alongside our school districts and educational communities—including educators, parents, and other stakeholders—to ensure that plans are in place to ensure the safety of all students and staff come the beginning of the school year,” said Murphy at a press briefing Aug. 12. “There is no one-size-fits-all plan to this difficult education situation.”

Summer of Change

This is the third major change to the school reopening plan since it was unveiled in June. The first came in July when the state required that schools were to accommodate parents who wanted to have their children opt for all-remote learning.

Then on Aug. 5, New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) mandated face coverings for New Jersey’s 1.37 million students on school grounds, regardless of social distancing. Previously, masks had only been required in crowded areas, like hallways, and recommended for use in classrooms. The guidance always required face coverings for teachers, staff and school visitors.

NJDOE Checklist

The new changes stipulate that non-public and public schools must file a certification with the NJDOE that they can meet the state’s health and safety rules on the first day of in-person classes.

To that end, districts are to fill out a checklist on the NJDOE website to see if they can meet nearly 50 guidelines for in-person classes, including social distancing, safe school entry points, a contact tracing plan, and safe ways for students to eat meals.

If a school is unable to meet one or more of the guidelines, the district can request to start the year with all-remote learning. Those approved will then need to file a plan of what adjustment the district will need make and a date to start in-person classes. 

State officials said that the majority of plans already submitted have been hybrid ones with some form of in-school learning. Districts will be allowed to resubmit plans if they want to start the year remote only.

Health Premium

The governor said the NJDOE has put forth strong guidelines that put a premium on “the health and safety of students and staff while providing avenues by which in-person instruction can safely resume.”

“We’ve provided significant flexibility while also adjusting expectations based on the latest science and data,” said Murphy. “At every twist and turn in the road, we’ve been willing to listen, to learn, and to act accordingly.”

The decision comes a day after New Jersey’s largest teachers union and groups representing school administrators called for all public schools to offer only remote classes in the fall because of health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. 

Professional Concerns

The New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and the New Jersey Education Association issued a joint statement, arguing “with less than a month remaining before schools are scheduled to reopen, it is time to reluctantly acknowledge that the goal is simply not achievable. Reopening schools for in-person instruction under the current conditions poses too great a risk to the health of students and schools staff.”

Murphy said there is no one-size-fits-all plan for all of the state’s public school districts and the state will continue to allow local school boards to make their own decisions about what’s best for their districts.

Flexibility Offered

“We recognize that for some districts, there are legitimate and documentable reasons why some of these core health and safety standards can not be met on day one,” Murphy said. “For these districts, today we are reaffirming our commitment to provide the flexibility for districts to do what is best for their school community.”

While being flexible, Murphy said the goal of offering in-person education when schools open in September has not changed and districts must be ready to safely provide the high-quality education to all students.

“For the past six weeks, we’ve relied upon the work of local educational communities to determine the best way for their schools to reopen,” said Murphy. “Public and nonpublic schools must certify to the NJDOE that they’re able to meet these standards.”

Daily Data

As of Aug. 12, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 185,938 with 484 new cases and nine new deaths, bringing that total to 14,046. The state probable death count remained at 1,839, bringing the overall total to 15,885.

State officials noted 13 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.  

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,876, followed by Bergen at 1,788, Hudson with 1,338, Passaic at 1,095, Morris at 682, Sussex at 161 and Warren with 158.

In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 248, Essex has 234, Hudson has 167, Passaic and Morris at 147, Sussex has 37 and Warren has 14.

State Testing 

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Aug. 8 was 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 1.9%, the central at 1.8% and the south 2.6%. 

As for the rate of transmission, it continued to decline, registering at 0.92. Officials have continually cited transmission rate and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.

Officials reported 592 patients are hospitalized, with 296 confirmed cases and 296 patients under investigation for having coronavirus. The north tier had 257 patients hospitalized, the central 163 and the south 172.

Of those hospitalized, 111 are in intensive care units and 35 on ventilators, while 58 patients were discharged. 

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most cumulative cases in the state with 20,989, followed by Essex at 19,813, Hudson at 19,749, Middlesex at 17,988, Passaic at 17,748, Union at 16,780, Ocean at 10,652, Monmouth at 10,368, Camden at 8,645, Mercer at 8,143, Morris at 7,286, Burlington at 6,069, Somerset at 5,275, Atlantic at 3,509, Cumberland at 3,377, Gloucester at 3,310, Warren at 1,347, Sussex at 1,341, Hunterdon at 1,150, Salem at 907 and Cape May at 842.

Another 740 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 48% of deaths are of those 80 year old and up, 31% in the range of 65-80, 16% between 50-65 and 5% under the age of 49. 

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted currently 231 long-term care facilities are reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 15,976 of the cases, broken down between 10,218 residents and 5,758 staff. 

Cumulatively, 621 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 24,619 residents and 13,010 staff, for a total of 37,629 cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,004 on Aug. 12. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,678 residents deaths and 121 staff deaths. 

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