New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Aug. 12 announced he will soon sign an executive order “officially clearing” public and private schools—pre-K through 12th grade—colleges, and universities to reopen for in-person learning in the fall.
“We have held ongoing discussions with the leaders throughout our higher education system and we believe they are ready for this step,” Murphy said Wednesday.
The governor said the decision on whether to implement in-person or remote learning, or a mixed approach, rested with the state’s nearly 600 public school districts as well as charter, parochial, and other institutions.
Murphy said that if New Jersey schools wish to begin the academic year online-only, school districts must be able to prove to the state that they are unable to safely resume in-person learning, and set a date for a return to school.
“There has to be a rationale associated with not opening at least in hybrid,” Murphy told reporters at a press briefing. “There’s got to be a reason for it.”
School districts must meet certain health and safety standards put in place by the New Jersey Department of Education in order to begin offering in-person learning for the upcoming academic year, Murphy said, noting that they would be able to resubmit reopening plans to the department.
“Districts that cannot meet all the health and safety standards for safe in-person instruction will begin their school year in an all-remote fashion,” the governor said. “Public school districts will need to spell out their plans for satisfying these unmet standards and a date by which they anticipate the ability to resume in-person instruction.”
Among the factors the state education department will consider as valid reasons to allow a district to resume the academic year remotely, are poor ventilation, space constraints making it impossible to enforce social distancing measures, a lack of personal protective equipment, or other serious health concerns, Politico reported.
The governor last week said that all students will be required to wear masks while inside school buildings in the state.
Murphy’s announcement marks a shift from remarks as recent as last week, when he said that the state’s public schools will reopen “in some capacity” for the coming academic year.
Speaking at a White House event on schools Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence cited recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that strongly favors a return to the classroom this fall.
“We believe that we can safely reopen our schools. We know that it’s best for our kids. We don’t want them fall behind, academically,” Pence said. “But also, we don’t want our kids to miss out on the counseling that they receive, special needs services, as well as all the nutrition programs that are available just at our schools.”
The latest CDC guidance, updated late last month, notes the “importance of reopening America’s schools this fall.” It states that that based on the “best available evidence,” the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus poses relatively low risks to school-aged children.
Citing its own figures, the agency said that as of July 17, children and adolescents under 18 years old in the United States account for less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths and under 7 percent of CCP virus cases.
Further, the CDC said, there are few reports of children being the “primary drivers” of the spread of COVID-19—the disease caused by the CCP virus—in schools, or in the community.
Trump said later on Wednesday that his administration will provide up to 125 million reusable masks to schools nationwide.
“All schools should be making plans to resume in-person classes as soon as possible,” the president said.
Reuters contributed to this report.