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July 30, 2020

Democratic lawmakers want New Jersey students to stay home through October – at least

New legislation introduced in response to Gov. Phil Murphy's push for schools to reopen this fall

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New Jersey schools Green Chameleon/via Unsplash

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wants schools to prioritize in-person instruction when the 2020-21 academic year begins. But a new bill would mandate remote instruction through October.

Three New Jersey lawmakers have introduced a bill that runs counter to Gov. Phil Murphy's push to implement a mixture of in-person and online learning at the start of the upcoming school year. 

The bill – proposed by a trio of Democratic assemblywomen – would require remote instruction through October for K-12 students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Special education and related services would be exempt and occur in-person.

The legislation allows Murphy, a fellow Democrat, and the state's health and education departments to re-evaluate the situation on a month-to-month basis after October. 

Reopening schools would be contingent upon a number of factors, including public health metrics and the state’s reopening guidelines. School districts would be required to develop plans for in-person learning that adhere to public health guidance.

Currently, all schools are expected to resume some in-person instruction, though schools can develop a hybrid model that includes some virtual learning. The state also is allowing parents and students to opt for all-remote instruction.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, who represents portions of Burlington and Camden counties, said the new legislation was introduced in response to concerns about the safety of returning to schools.

"We’ve heard from school administrators, medical professionals, educators, students and parents on school reopening, and the common sentiment being expressed is the same – our schools lack the guidance and support needed to safely reopen," said Lampitt, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. 

"In-person learning, without a doubt, produces the best educational outcome for students and we are all eager to return to the classroom. However, until we can ensure the safety of our students and school staff, we must focus our efforts on how we can enhance remote and virtual learning to provide students with the highest quality education possible."

The bill also permits districts to delay their first day of school by up to two weeks. Districts that select this option must use that period to conduct professional development sessions that will help teachers better deliver virtual lessons. 

Districts would be allowed to hold outdoor events for students, teachers and parents to interact during the remote learning period. But those events must comply with health and safety guidelines outlined by the state.

Murphy and other state officials have urged school districts to prioritize in-person instruction this fall, viewing virtual learning as a complimentary tool. 

The state is trying to provide the best education while ensuring equity for families who depend more upon in-person instruction – all while keeping students, educators and families safe from COVID-19, Murphy said earlier this week. He reiterated that remote learning is a more viable educational option for affluent school districts, students and families.

New Jersey closed schools in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rest of the school year consisted of remote instruction.

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