New Jersey Schools For Fall: Students Wearing Face Coverings, Hybrid Learning and Possibility of Switch Back to Remote

Gov. Phil Murphy released guidance for schools reopening in the fall Friday so districts can have the entirety of summer break to prepare.

“We fully expect districts will share their preliminary scheduling plans at least one month before the first day of school so families can plan ahead,” said Murphy.

Murphy cited the unknowns with flareups in Arizona and Florida, and added that there is no one-size-fits-all approach we can take to the reopening of our schools. The guidelines take into account the many geographic, demographic, and economic differences which exist among schools and education communities.

“We are not in the end zone, we are not out of the woods,” said Murphy. “We have to look in mirror and remember this is the fight of our lives. We have to leave all options on the table,” said Murphy. “Districts must be prepared for the possibility that public health could require another switch to all-remote learning at any time.”

“We have every expectation that our kids will return to their schools come September. This is a baseline of standards – a tool kit for schools to use as they develop their individualized plans.”

    Social distancing will be required at recess, in cafeterias and during all student activities. At all school facilities, all faculty, staff, and visitors will be required to wear face coverings.

    Students will be strongly encouraged to wear face coverings, and will be required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained.

    “We recognize the challenge face coverings may pose for younger students, for certain students with special needs, or for those from whom wearing a face covering is discouraged because of a health condition,” said Murphy.

    Every effort must be taken to ensure proper social distancing of students within their classrooms, whether by rearranging the locations of desks and tables, or other modifications to the classroom layout.

    Where it can be done, overall class sizes should be limited to reach the standards of social distancing.

    For larger districts, schools have the flexibility to rearrange schedules to allow for grouping of students, or by implementing hybrid learning environments.

New Jersey’s school reopening guidance has been informed by the latest data and recommendations from the New Jersey Department of Health, with vital input directly from school communities.

For weeks, the New Jersey Department of Education has engaged in regular contact with educators and stakeholders. The Department listened to roughly 50 education and community organizations and more than 300 superintendents, and surveyed nearly 300,000 parents and guardians.

The reopening guidance for schools comes with one overarching requirement — that public schools will open in some capacity with the health of students, their families, and educators being the top priority.

In addition to these minimum standards, the NJDOE has identified 10 Critical Areas of Operation that schools must address in their restart plans:

    1. General Health and Safety Guidelines – In all stages and phases of pandemic response and recovery, schools must comply with Center for Disease Control (CDC), state, and local guidelines. Schools must also provide reasonable accommodations for staff and students at higher risk for severe illness and promote behaviors that reduce spread, such as social distancing, frequent hand washing, and the use of face coverings.

    2. Classrooms, Testing, and Therapy Rooms – Schools and districts must allow for social distancing to the maximum extent possible. When social distancing is difficult or impossible, face coverings are required, and face coverings are always required for visitors and staff unless it will inhibit the individual’s health. School districts must also minimize use of shared objects, ensure indoor facilities have adequate ventilation, prepare and maintain hand sanitizing stations, and ensure students wash hands frequently.

    3. Transportation – School districts should maintain social distancing practices on buses to the maximum extent practicable and adopt best practices for cleaning and disinfecting all vehicles used for transporting students. If maintaining social distancing is not possible, all students who are able must wear face coverings while on busses.

    4. Student Flow, Entry, Exit, and Common Areas – School district reopening plans should establish the process and location for student and staff health screenings. This should include providing physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to help ensure that staff and students remain at least six feet apart. When it is not possible to maintain physical distancing, schools must require the use of face coverings.

    5. Screening, PPE, and Response to Students and Staff Presenting Symptoms – School districts must adopt a policy for safely and respectfully screening students and employees for symptoms of and history of exposure to COVID-19. Students and staff with symptoms related to COVID-19 must be safely and respectfully isolated from others. If a school district becomes aware that an individual who has spent time in a district facility tests positive for COVID-19, district officials must immediately notify local health officials, staff, and families of a confirmed case while maintaining confidentiality.

    6. Contact Tracing – Contact tracing is the process used to identify those who have come into contact with people who have tested positive for many contagious diseases, including COVID-19. It is a long-standing practice and is an integral function of local health
    departments. All school district administrators, school safety specialists, counselors, and any other staff deemed appropriate by the school district, should be provided with information regarding the role of contact tracing in keeping school communities safe from the spread of contagious disease. School districts should collaborate with the local health department and engage their school nurses to develop contact tracing policies and procedures, as well as educate the broader school community on the importance of contact tracing.

    7. Facilities Cleaning Practices – School districts must continue to adhere to existing required facilities cleaning practices and procedures, and any new specific requirements of the local health department as they arise. School districts must also develop a schedule for increased routine cleaning and disinfecting, especially of frequently touched surfaces and objects, and sanitize bathrooms daily and between use as much as possible.

    8. Meals – If cafeterias or other group dining areas are in use, school districts must stagger eating times to allow for social distancing and disinfecting of the area between groups. Additionally, districts must discontinue family-style, self-service, and buffet-style dining and maintain social distancing. Cafeteria staff must wash their hands immediately after removing gloves and after directly handling used food service items.

    9. Recess/Physical Education – School districts must complete an inventory of outdoor spaces and mark off areas to ensure separation between students. Recess must be staggered by groups and staff must disinfect playground equipment and other shared equipment between uses. School districts should also consider closing locker rooms and encouraging students to wear comfortable clothing and safe footwear to school so they can participate in physical education classes without needing to change.

    10. Extracurricular Activities and Use of Facilities Outside of School Hours – All extracurricular activities must comply with applicable social distancing requirements and hygiene protocol. External community organizations that use school facilities must follow district guidance on health and safety protocols.

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