Gov. Phil Murphy Waives New Jersey Graduation Requirements, Substitute Teacher Limits Due to Coronavirus

New Jersey will—for the second time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic—lift a graduation assessment test requirement for all high school seniors this Spring.

During a recent briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state would expand how long some substitute teachers can work in a district and eliminate the use of student growth objectives when evaluating teacher performance.

All three changes, he said, are driven by “the unique challenges our students and educators are facing” as schools near the one-year mark of operating either partially, or entirely, remotely.

“We simply have to all reach the conclusion that this is not—as we’ve said from moment one—a normal or regular school year,” Murphy said. “We have to be more flexible and more understanding.”

Executive Order Gives ‘Flexibilities Necessary’

“To not make these sensible adjustments, given the current situation, would be a failure to properly serve our students, our educators and the best interests of our education communities,” the governor said.

The state’s Acting Education Commissioner, Angelica Allen-McMillian, said the measures followed “sustained engagement” with legislators, teachers, school officials and associations, all of whom “made known the need for this executive order.”

“Our collaborative work will help ensure that schools and districts have the flexibilities necessary to better address students and educators instructional and support needs while maintaining stability and continuity in classroom instruction,” she said.

Lifting Exit Exam Requirement

The Class of 2021 won’t be required to take high school exit exams—the test normally required for seniors to prove their proficiency in English language arts and mathematics—as long as they satisfy all other graduation requirements, such as credits and attendance, Murphy said.

In April 2020, Murphy waived the testing requirement for all graduating seniors.

However, the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment, another standardized test, will go on as planned this Spring, according to Allen-McMillian.

The test, which is administered by the federal Department of Education, was waived during the 2019-20 school year. State officials don’t yet know what President Joe Biden’s administration will plan to do.

Extending Substitutes

In response to teacher shortages during the last 10 months, the executive order extends how long certified teachers can work as substitutes to help districts handle an increase in vacancies.

“With all that the pandemic has thrown in our school districts, they deserve the added flexibility to ensure that students are in capable hands whenever substitutes are necessary,” Murphy said.

Under Executive Order 212, those in the process of becoming certified teachers are allowed to fill vacancies for a maximum of 60 school days, instead of 20. It also permits fully certified teachers who work as substitutes in an area outside of their credentials to fill vacancies for up to 60 school days, rather than 40.

The expanded time limit will remain in effect for the duration of the public health emergency, Allen-McMillian added.

Teacher Evaluation Changes

Murphy’s executive order eliminates the use of student growth objectives, which evaluates teachers based on how far their students have progressed.

Instead, for the 2020-21 school year, educators will be evaluated based on observations made by supervisors, principals or other school officials.

With remote learning throwing “so much uncertainty into the mix,” Murphy said districts should assess solely on “teacher practice.”

NJEA Support

The New Jersey Education Association praised Murphy’s executive order, saying it further demonstrates that the governor “understands the extraordinary nature of the challenges facing our schools.”

“That flexibility, in the face of overwhelming stress and uncertainty, demonstrates that his stated commitment to the educational, social and emotional needs of our entire education committee is sincere,” the state’s largest teachers union said in a statement.

“Additionally, by temporarily adjusting the regulations around substitute educators, districts have greater flexibility to address the health and safety concerns of educators and better protect the whole school community during this pandemic,” it said.

Daily Data

On Jan. 20,  the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 576,720 with 4,582 total new PCR cases reported. There were 1,244 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 64,420. The total number of individual cases for the state is 641,140. Gov. Murphy noted there is some unknown overlap due to health officials urging those taking a rapid test to get a PCR test.

As for those that have passed, the state reported 122 new deaths, bringing that total to 18,543. The state listed probable deaths at 2,121, bringing the overall total to 20,664. State officials noted 45 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.  

For North Jersey counties, Bergen had a total of 518 new confirmed cases and 153 probable cases, Essex 351 new cases and 75 probable cases, Hudson 525 new cases and 51 probable cases, Morris 218 new cases and and 69 probable cases, Passaic 245 new cases and and 50 probable cases, Sussex 68 new cases and 27 probable cases, and Warren 39 cases and 12 probable cases.

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,230, followed by Bergen at 2,153, Hudson with 1,635, Passaic at 1,394, Morris at 829, Sussex at 194 and Warren County at 176.

In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 268, Essex has 260, Morris at 202, Hudson has 172, Passaic at 160, Sussex has 53 and Warren has 15.

State Testing 

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Jan. 15, was 10.1%; by region, the rate was 9.7% in the North, 10.4% in the Central region and 10.8% in the South. 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. 

As for the rate of transmission, it decreased to 1.08 from 1.11 the day before. 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 3,547 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 1,450 in the North, 1,203 in the Central and 894 in the South.

Of those hospitalized, 635 are in intensive care units and 432 on ventilators. A total of 382 patients were discharged.

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most confirmed cumulative cases in the state with 55,796, followed by Essex at 55,559, Middlesex at 54,881, Hudson at 52,631, Passaic at 44,703, Union at 42,217, Ocean at 40,708, Monmouth at 40,694, Camden at 34,157, Burlington at 26,128, Morris at 25,052, Mercer at 22,115, Gloucester at 17,624, Atlantic at 15,669, Somerset at 15,175, Cumberland at 9,779, Sussex at 6,195, Warren at 4,979, Hunterdon at 4,890, Salem at 3,599, and Cape May at 2,950.  

In regards to probable cases, Bergen had the most at 6,246, followed by Union at 6,031, Ocean at 4,684, Essex at 4,597, Hudson at 4,208, Morris at 3,883, Atlantic at 3,882, Monmouth at 3,769, Middlesex at 3,738, Passaic at 3,654, Somerset at 3,250, Camden at 3,320, Burlington at 2,869, Cape May at 2,728, Gloucester at 2,327, Cumberland at 1,803, Mercer at 1,143, Sussex at 816, Warren at 546, Hunterdon at 493, and Salem 381.

Another 1,219 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, a total of 121 outbreaks involving 597 cases, with 10 new outbreaks accounting for 23 cases, have been reported in all 21 counties in the Garden State. 

For North Jersey, Bergen County has 26 confirmed outbreaks with 115 cases, Passaic County has five confirmed outbreaks with 25 cases, Sussex has five confirmed outbreaks with 13 cases, Warren has five confirmed outbreaks with 11 cases, Hudson County has two confirmed outbreaks with 10 cases, Essex County with one confirmed outbreak with 91 cases and Morris County has one confirmed outbreaks with five cases.

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 427 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 14,572 of the cases, broken down between 6,956 residents and 7,616 staff. 

Cumulatively, 1,204 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 31,622 residents and 20,837 staff, for a total of 52,459 cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,678 on Jan. 20. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,616 residents deaths and 140 staff deaths.

Vaccine Distribution

The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 421,297 as of Jan. 20. Of those who have received the vaccine, 371,310 residents have received their first dose with 49,759 their second; 54% have been administered the Moderna vaccine and 46% the Pfizer. 

Demographically, 62% of those vaccinated are women and 38% men. As for ethnicity, 46% are White, 20% unknown, 19% other, 6% Asian, 5% Hispanic and 3% Black. In regards to age of those having received the vaccine, 25% are 65 years old or olders, 32% are between the ages of 50-64, 33% are between the ages of 40-49, and 11% are between the ages of 18-29.  

In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 46,145 doses, Essex 34,873 doses, Hudson 18,179 doses, Morris 30,158 doses, Passaic 18,900 doses, Sussex 6,954 doses, and Warren 4,314 doses. 

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