After New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) officials failed to appear at a Senate Education Committee hearing earlier this month to discuss challenges schools have faced during the coronavirus pandemic, GOP lawmakers are again calling for an investigation into Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of the pandemic.
Calling the Jan. 6 no-show “the latest example of the lack of regard” that the Murphy Administration has for “state government and our Constitution,” State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) said he was disappointed but not surprised.
“After what we have seen from the administration for the past two years, I think any of us could have predicted the DOE would stiff the legislators who are trying to do the jobs they were elected to do,” Pennacchio said.
Measuring Learning Loss
The unexplained absence came a day after the DOE released data showing how closures and remote learning may have affected New Jersey’s 1.3 million public school students.
Following the onset of the public health crisis in March 2020 and subsequent shift to virtual instruction, the potential for student learning loss has been a major concern for parents, educators and public officials.
In an effort to measure who lost what—and in place of the usual Student Learning Assessments—the state administered an abbreviated series of tests called “Start Strong” last fall to grades 4-10, gauging their post-pandemic knowledge in math, science and English language arts.
Percentage of Students At or Above Grade Level
English Language Arts
- 2021: 60.9%
- 2019: 97.9%
- 2021: 61%
- 2019: 97.9%
- 2021: 60.7%
- 2019: 97.8%
According to the DOE, the impact was greatest for elementary students, as well as who are Black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, English language learners and those with disabilities.
The tests found that at least 42% of students in grades 4-8 may need “strong support” to catch up in math, while 60% of older students taking Algebra may need extra help. Additionally, at least a quarter of students in grades 5-10 could need “strong support” in England language arts, along with 41.5% of students in grade 4.
Getting Students Back On Track
Steve Baker, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, told NJ.com it is no surprise that the pandemic disrupted learning and that it will “take a sustained effort to help students overcome the effects of what happened.”
Both the DOE and New Jersey School Boards Association noted that the results largely reflect what has happened in other parts of the country during the pandemic. Overall, U.S. students have fallen months behind, but vulnerable students, minorities, low-income and English language learners have lost the most ground, creating larger educational inequities than existed before the coronavirus outbreak.
In New Jersey, the DOE and other stakeholders hope to use the results of Start Strong to determine appropriate supports to get each student back on track during the 2021-22 school year. The assessments will help inform how schools spend remaining COVID aid it received from the federal government. So far, 90% of the more than $4.3 billion of those funds have been allocated to districts.
Education ‘Is In A Crisis’
Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) called the newly-released figures “alarming,” “heartbreaking” and “disturbing.”
“Things have to be done. I don’t want to hear about percentages anymore. I don’t want to see the gaps,” Ruiz said. “I want to see a plan. I want to see policy and I want to see action. And if I sound angry, I am, and if I sound upset, I am. Education in this state is in a crisis.”
“There is no plan currently to deal with the educational pandemic that has been looming and … coming to a crash here in the state of New Jersey,” said Ruiz, who called on the DOE to take action.
Push For Stronger Oversight
Teachers, school nurses, principals and administrators are also pressing for a statewide plan to address increasing staff shortages, concerns for teacher safety and burnout, and the growing achievement gap between students.
For Pennacchio, the results are just the latest reason that more aggressive oversight of the Murphy Administration is needed at it enters its second term.
“The Department of Ed should have been there, but it is obvious that nobody from the administration is going to show up without a subpoena,” the Morris County lawmaker said. “Maybe now Democrats in the Legislature will realize that if they want answers and they want solutions, the only way we’re going to get them is with an oversight committee with the power to compel witnesses.”
As of Jan. 18, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,740,682 with 9,073 total new PCR cases. There were 2,191 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 274,020. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,014,702.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 42 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 27,287. The state listed probable deaths at 2,883, bringing the overall total to 30,170. State officials noted 86 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Jan. 18, Bergen had a total of 1,039 new confirmed cases 275 new probable cases, Essex 854 new cases and 106 new probable case, Hudson 642 new cases and 135 new probable cases, Morris 357 new confirmed cases and 128 new probable cases, Passaic 471 new cases and 122 new probable cases, Sussex 148 new cases and 23 new probable cases, and Warren 104 new cases and 11 new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,998, followed by Bergen at 2,866, Hudson with 2,296, Passaic at 1,952, Morris at 1,120, Sussex at 322, and Warren County at 271.
In regards to probable deaths reported Jan. 18, Bergen has 314, Essex has 310, Morris has 274, Hudson has 275, Passaic has 205, Sussex has 75 and Warren has 27.
Of the 6,145,961 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Dec. 27, 2021, 128,172 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated (2.1%). Of those 1,687 have been hospitalized and 448 COVID-related deaths—less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Dec. 20-26, 2021, breakthroughs accounted for 31.0% of all new cases (31,334 of 101,000), 0.2% of new hospilizations (4 of 2,640), and five of the 146 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Jan. 17, it declined to 1.02 from 1.09 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Jan. 13 was 21.7%; by region, the rate was 19.8% in the North, 23.5% in the Central region and 24.0% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 5,251 patients hospitalized as 69 of the 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Jan. 18. By region, there were 2,184 in the North, 1,765 in the Central and 1,302 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 848 are in intensive care units and 534 on ventilators. A total of 427 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators 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.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 555 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 21,555 of the cases, broken down between 9,481 residents and 12,074 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,344 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 43,290 residents and 35,094 staff, for a total of 78,384.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,854 on Jan. 18. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,255 residents deaths and 147 staff deaths.
According to the state dashboard with just 60% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 28,523 and new staff cases 8,646 in the last week as of Jan. 9. Cumulatively, 141,734 cases have been reported— 109,341 students and 32,393 staffers.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 83.9% overall. In North Jersey counties, Bergen was tops at 90.8%, followed by Warren at 90.3%, Morris at 86.8%, Sussex at 86.0%, Passaic at 85.1%, Essex at 83.1%, and Hudson at 69.8%, the lowest county in the state.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Jan. 18, the state has tracked 406 school outbreaks and 2,365 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 18 outbreaks and 110 cases from the week previous.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the new report, Bergen County has 51 confirmed outbreaks with 274 cases, Morris County has 31 confirmed outbreaks with 197 cases, Passaic County has 20 confirmed outbreaks with 173 cases, Sussex has 29 confirmed outbreaks with 156 cases, Essex County has 24 confirmed outbreaks with 128 cases, Hudson County has 18 confirmed outbreaks with 89 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 12 cases.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,266,394 in-state, plus an additional 524,716 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,791,110 as of Jan. 17.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,305,172 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 212,725 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,517,897. A total of 75% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in New Jersey and 88% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,373,625 for Pfizer and 1,149,544 for Moderna. A total of 54,122 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,577,291 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 46% of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 692,822 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 557,803, Hudson 499,363, Morris 373,550, Passaic 339,039, Sussex 89,643, and Warren 58,247.