TRENTON (1010 WINS) – Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed an executive order that will allow schools, colleges and universities to reopen this fall — but said districts that "cannot meet all health and safety standards for safe in-person instruction" will start off the school year with remote learning instead.
"As many of our colleges and universities have continued offering classes during the summer, in-person instruction may fully resume as long as social distancing and other protections are strictly adhered to," Murphy said during a briefing. "Any student who chooses to continue remote learning must be accommodated."
School districts that cannot meet all health and safety standards for safe in-person instruction "will begin their school year with all-remote learning," Murphy added.
The governor on Wednesday also reported nine new COVID-19 deaths and 484 new cases, bringing the state’s death toll to 14,046 and its case total to 185,938.
As of Tuesday, 592 people in the state were hospitalized with confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, 111 of whom were in intensive care units and 35 of whom were on ventilators, he said. The state’s rate of transmission currently stands at 0.92.
Murphy's announcement came hours after New Jersey’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, and school administrators called on the governor and the Department of Education to allow remote learning and keep all public schools closed when the school year starts.
The group of educators said in-person learning beginning in September is simply too unsafe, and that other states that have reopened have seen outbreaks of cases.
In a statement late Tuesday, Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association, called on Murphy and the DOE to open with remote learning only.
“For months, New Jersey educators and administrators have been working tirelessly to find a way to safely bring students back into school buildings in September. Now, with less than a month remaining before schools are scheduled to reopen, it is time to reluctantly acknowledge that goal is simply not achievable,” the statement reads.
“Reopening schools for in-person instruction under the current conditions poses too great a risk to the health of students and schools staff. The question of whether and when to reopen for in-person instruction is first and foremost a public health decision that cannot be left in the hands of nearly 600 individual school districts. The stakes are too high, and the consequences of a wrong decision are too grave,” the statement continues.
Murphy has said the goal is to get children back in classrooms safely. That includes masks and social distancing at the state’s 2,500 public schools.
The educators said they fully support and share the governor’s goal of moving in-person instruction as soon as the science and data say it can be done responsibly — and when the resources are available in school buildings to do it safely.
They called on Murphy to act “quickly and decisively” in order to give schools the time to build “the most effective remote learning plans possible.”