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Will schools open next year? Is summer school open? Is there guidance for graduations?

Last Updated: 07/09/2020

2020-2021 SCHOOL YEAR

Absent a change in public health data, public schools will open for in-person instruction and operations in some capacity at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

The Department of Education has issued detailed guidance to assist schools with reopening in the fall.

The guidance 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.

The guidance envisions schools operating within necessary standards to protect the health and safety of students and staff. The guidance includes minimum standards such as following certain social distancing practices in classrooms and face covering measures for students and staff. The guidance also provides recommendations to assist districts in achieving these standards, such as implementing hybrid learning environments in which students receive both in-person and remote instruction.

The guidance describes several health and safety standards to be prioritized in school reopening:

  • Social distancing: Schools and districts must allow for social distancing within the classroom. 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. These include physical barriers between desks and turning desks to face the same direction (rather than facing each other)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 under two years of age. 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 is necessary to acknowledge that enforcing the use of 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.

Other provisions in the guidance include:

  • 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.

For larger districts, the sheer number of students in a building may make it impractical for all students to be in their schools at once. For these districts, we are providing them with flexibility to rearrange their school schedules to allow for grouping -- or cohorting -- of students, or by implementing hybrid learning environments in which students receive both in-person and remote instruction.

For full details, refer to the Department of Education's Restart and Recovery Plan for Education.

Because reopening is dependent upon health data and informed by experts in the health field, districts will need to be prepared to pivot to remote instruction at any time during the 2020-2021 school year.

The guidance stresses that each school district should be working to ensure every student has a device and internet connectivity available, and it identifies funding streams available to school districts to ensure students have access to technology.

Districts should share preliminary scheduling plans with staff, families, and students at least four weeks before the start of the school year in order to allow families to plan child care and work arrangements.

2020 SUMMER PROGRAMS

As of July 6, school districts may hold in-person summer educational programs including extended school year and special education services so long as they follow the health and safety protocols outlined by the NJ Department of Health for Youth summer camps. For more details on these requirements, refer to this article.

School districts may decide the best way to meet their students' educational needs in a safe environment – whether it be in-person, remote, or hybrid.

In addition, the Department of Education has released guidance that will allow districts to provide robust programs in a safe environment, while preparing students for the school year ahead.

To learn more, refer to the Department of Education's Summer Learning Resource Guide and Guidance on the Delivery of Extended School Year Services.

The Department of Education has also provided resources to help parents, students, educators, and administrators stay prepared, healthy, and safe: https://www.nj.gov/education/covid19/

GRADUATION CEREMONIES

School districts may hold modified in-person graduation ceremonies beginning on July 6.

Drive-through/drive-in and modified in-person, outdoor ceremonies will be permitted subject to requirements for K-12 commencement ceremonies.

Outdoor ceremonies must comply with the 500-person limit on outdoor gatherings. Social distancing must be in place, and face masks are required whenever social distancing is difficult to maintain.

No one who has traveled through a COVID-19 hotspot – whether a student or family member – should be participating in or attending a graduation ceremony.

To learn more about the requirements for in-person graduation ceremonies, refer to the Department of Education's guidance for K-12 schools.

The situation continues to change rapidly, so please check with your school administrator for the latest on graduation ceremonies.

NOTE: Students, who may be accompanied by parents or guardians, may enter school premises that were previously shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19 to retrieve personal belongings from lockers, classrooms, or other areas, but should check with individual districts and schools for specific policies.

Source: Executive Order No. 104; https://www.nj.gov/education/covid19/; https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/approved/20200527c.shtml; Executive Order No. 152; https://www.nj.gov/health/ceohs/documents/phss/Youth_Day_Camps_Standards_COVID-19.pdf; https://www.nj.gov/education/reopening/NJDOETheRoadBack.pdf; Executive Order No. 161; Executive Order No. 163