Murphy: NJ schools should be all in person in fall; health department releases new school guidance


A girl wears a face mask as students sit in a classroom of the Petri primary school in Dortmund, western Germany, on June 15, 2020 amid the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP) (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

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NEW JERSEY — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday there would likely be no option for remote learning and all students should be back in person when the new school year starts in September.

Unless there’s a big resurgence of COVID-19 and data said otherwise, the state’s school districts should move ahead with Monday-through-Friday in-person instruction, Murphy said as the state’s Department of Health has released revised guidance for in-person learning.

If masking and frequent hand washing can be maintained, then full-time in-person instruction can begin with the distance between students reduced to 3 feet, according to Gov. Phil Murphy.

The updated guidance applies to all elementary grade levels across all levels of community transmission risk and also applies to middle and high school grades at low and moderate-risk levels, the governor said. 

In communities where the rate of transmission is listed as “high,” 6 feet remains the standard distance between students. 

The revision comes following new guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which allows students to sit 3 feet apart as opposed to the former standard of 6 feet apart.

Six feet of distance is critical in common areas where masking is not an option, including when students are eating and drinking at cafeterias.

Although more educators are getting vaccinated, they are advised to continue to wear masks during instruction. 

“Now is the time for all of our schools to meaningfully move toward a return to in-person instruction,” Murphy said. 

“Based on available data, in-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Wednesday. 

Grades K-12 schools must be one of the last settings to close among all other mitigation methods that have been deployed and they must also among the first to reopen when it’s safe to do so, Persichilli

Schools across the state appear to remain mixed as their mode of instruction, with the majority taking part in a hybrid instruction:

  • 143 open for all in-person instruction (96,926 students)
  • 534 open for hybrid instruction (833,095 students)
  • 90 all-remote learning (301,856 students)
  • 44 combination across buildings (121,600 students)

Since August, the number of cases linked to in-school spread is 890, which is fewer than two-tenths of 1% of all the cases the state has recorded in the past eight months, the governor added.

New Jersey schools were ordered to close March 2020 in an attempt to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Students began remote learning, with many schools opting to continue all-remote learning at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year. 

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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