Schools are set to open in-person in September with conditions in a post-coronavirus world, the governor and state commissioner of education announced Friday.
“The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education” was released Friday, giving districts the summer to put their individual plans into place, Gov. Phil Murphy said.
While schools are expected to fully opened, there will be a plan that can “flip a switch” to restart remote learning at any time, should public health require it, Murphy said.
“We call on districts to create restart committees,” Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said.
Each district should coordinate with their local boards of health, creating committees that include administrators, board members, local education association representatives, educators, parents and students, Repollet said, adding that each school should have a pandemic response team.
All staff and school visitors will be required to wear masks, unless health reasons prohibit it. While students will be encouraged, the guidelines acknowledge that face coverings may not work for younger students or those with certain disabilities.
Social distancing may include putting desks six feet apart, having them face the same direction and even adding barriers in classrooms.
“The return to school will pose challenges, but we are confident that New Jersey’s school districts can move forward in a way that best serves the needs of their district while also achieving a safe environment for students and staff,” Murphy said.
“My staff and I have been in continuous, often daily communication with superintendents and stakeholders… to hear collective voices,” Repollet said. “Knowing that the health of students and staff is our number one concern, our guide will begin to fill in the picture of what a safe education system will look like in the fall.”
Murphy said it will take the “unsung heroes” that are the schools’ custodial staffs to make sure proper sanitization and disinfection plans are in place and followed.
School bus drivers will have to make sure students wear face coverings if social distancing is not feasible.
The 104-page guide focuses on four key functional areas: conditions for learning, leadership and planning, policy and funding, and continuity of learning.
It sets the minimum standards for returning to school and serves as a toolkit for schools to use as they develop their recovery plans – recognizing that flexibility is needed as each school will have unique needs and circumstances, and some efforts will need to be guided by local health officials.
TOP POINTS AT A GLANCE
HEALTH AND SAFETY STANDARDS
- Social distancing: This can be achieved by ensuring students are seated at least six feet apart. If schools are not able to maintain this physical distance, additional modifications should be considered, including physical barriers between desks and turning desks to face the same direction or having students sit on only one side of a table and spaced apart.
- Face coverings: School staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or the individual is younger than 2. Students are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and are required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained, unless doing so would inhibit the student’s health. It acknowledges face coverings may be impractical for young children or certain individuals with disabilities.
- Limited capacity: It is recommended that students and staff be seated at least six feet apart in class when practicable. When weather allows, windows should be opened to allow for greater air circulation.
- Cleaning/disinfecting: Procedures must be implemented by each school district for the sanitization of school buildings and school buses. Increased handwashing measures are also important for students and staff.
- Cafeteria directors should consider staggering meal times to allow for social distancing; discontinuing self-serve or buffet lines; having students eat meals outside or in their classrooms; and requiring staff to disinfect eating areas between groups.
- Recess should also be held in staggered shifts, with efforts to promote social distancing and hygiene protocols.
- Cohorting: Schools may wish to identify small groups of students and keep them together (cohorting) to ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible, thereby limiting exposure to large groups of students.
- School bus operators should encourage social distancing. CDC guidelines recommend seating on a school bus such that there is one student seated per row, skipping a row between each child, if possible. Barriers separating rows of bus seats may also be considered. If social distancing is not feasible, face coverings must be worn by students who are able to do so. Increased ventilation (i.e. opening windows) is also recommended in the guidelines.