TRENTON, N.J. — Some New Jersey schools will have the option to start the academic year with all-remote learning, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.
School districts that opt for an all-remote learning model will have to submit to the state Department of Education an explanation of what health and safety protocols cannot be met to allow in-person learning, Murphy said.
Administrators in all-remote learning districts will also have to show the state how they plan to meet the health and safety protocols needed to reopen for in-person learning and provide an anticipated date of reopening.
Schools that have already submitted plans to the state but want to revise them to an all-remote model will be allowed to do so.
“There is no one-size-fits-all plan to this difficult education situation,” Murphy said during a coronavirus briefing. “We’re home to nearly 600 public school districts, plus charter and renaissance schools, nonpublic and parochial schools, and other specialized places of learning. Each one faces its own unique challenges.”
The decision is a reversal from previous guidance issued in June that required all school buildings to open in some capacity. Further guidance issued in July allowed parents to choose remote learning for their child but stopped short of permitting districts to go all-remote.
The governor also signed an executive order on Wednesday officially clearing both public and private schools as well as colleges and universities to reopen buildings for the upcoming academic year.
In-person instruction can fully resume effective immediately as long as social distancing and safety protocols are followed, Murphy said.
Schools statewide were ordered to close in mid-March as the coronavirus outbreak began. Students finished out the academic year via remote learning.
As New Jersey continues to show progress in slowing the spread of the virus, Murphy has expressed a strong preference toward bringing students back into classrooms as long as it’s safe to do so.
Schools were required to submit a reopening plan to the state for review and approval.
At least two districts — Elizabeth and Jersey City — voted to submit a reopening plan that started the school year off with all-remote learning despite the DOE’s in-person requirement.
In Elizabeth, the decision to shift to a remote learning model was made with the consideration of separate surveys given to parents and staff members over the summer, according to the board members.
Of the nearly 10,000 parents who filled out the survey between July 27 and Aug. 10, 59% said they would not send their child back to school in September and 41% said they would.
The district also sent surveys to 4,084 staff members, 1,373 of whom responded. Of the educators who were surveyed, 52.8% said their first choice for a reopening plan was an all-remote model.
The Jersey City School District initially planned to begin the semester on a rotating schedule, with students and staff brought back in phases every three weeks.
However, board members decided to reverse course and vote for an all-remote plan, citing a recent uptick of COVID-19 cases in the state.