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Will schools open next year? Is summer school open?

Last Updated: 08/14/2020

2020-2021 SCHOOL YEAR

Schools will open for in-person instruction for the start of the school year.

Public school districts can begin the school year via remote-only instruction if they cannot adequately meet critical health and safety protocols outlined in the State's school reopening guidance.

Parents will also have the option to choose all-remote learning for their children.

Reopening Guidance for In-Person Instruction

The Department of Education has provided a School Reopening FAQ page with common questions about fall school reopening guidelines.

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

  • Social distancing: Schools and districts must allow for social distancing within the classroom. If schools are not able to maintain this physical distance, additional modifications should be considered.
  • Face coverings: Students are required to wear face coverings at all times while inside a school building, regardless of social distancing, unless doing so would inhibit the individual's health. School staff and visitors are also required to wear face coverings. For more information, refer to DOE's guidance on face coverings.
  • 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 buses: If a district is providing transportation services on a school bus, a face covering must be worn by all students upon entering the bus unless doing so would inhibit the student's health. 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.

For full details, refer to the Department of Education's reopening page for reopening guidance, updates, and supplemental guidance.

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.

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.

To assist with development and review of school reopening plans, the DOE has provided a Checklist for the Re-Opening of Schools.

Districts are required to certify to the Department of Education that they can meet the health and safety protocols outlined in the Order, and further detailed in the "Road Back," before resuming in-person instruction. Districts unable to adequately meet health and safety reopening protocols must provide remote instruction to all students. These districts are required to submit documentation to DOE detailing which standard(s) the district is unable to satisfy, the anticipated efforts that will be taken to satisfy the standard(s), and a date by which the school anticipates resuming in-person instruction.

Public Health Recommendations for School Reopening

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 Department of Health has released COVID-19 Public Health Recommendations for Local Health Departments for schools.

Every week, the Department of Health will provide information on COVID-19 transmission at the regional level, characterizing risk as low (green), moderate (yellow), high (orange), and very high (red).

When regions are in the very high-risk category (red), it is recommended that they implement fully remote learning.

Schools in other risk levels will consult with their local health departments as they work to implement protocols requiring staff and students to stay home when sick or if they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, develop a policy for daily symptom screening, and identify rapid testing resources when staff and students develop COVID-19 symptoms.

Schools should clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily, ensure adequate hand hygiene supplies are available, implement physical distancing measures such as reducing occupancy, installation of partitions and physical barriers, and cancelling large gatherings, and implement source control through wearing face covering.

Remote Learning Option

All districts must provide a remote learning option for parents or guardians who request it for their children.

The Department of Education has issued additional guidance for parents who choose full-time remote learning for their children in the 2020-2021 school year.

The core elements of the guidance include:

  • Universal eligibility: All students, including students who receive special education or related services, are eligible for full-time remote learning if their parent or guardian chooses.
  • Policies and procedures: School districts must set clear policies and procedures for families who want full-time remote learning for their children. School districts also need procedures for students in full-time remote learning to transition back to in-person services.
  • Communications: School districts must communicate clearly and frequently with families, in their home language, about the availability of this offering and the related procedures.
  • Quality of programming: Students participating in all-remote instruction should receive the same quality of instruction that is provided to any other student. In addition, full-time remote programs must adhere to the same policies and regulations that in-person and hybrid programs follow regarding student attendance and the length of the school day.
  • Data reporting: To help the Department evaluate fulltime remote learning, school districts will report data to the Department about student participation in these programs.

The full guidance is available on the Department of Education's "Restart and Recovery: The Road Back" webpage.

Closing The Digital Divide

To address "the digital divide" and ensure reliable internet connectivity and access to one-to-one digital devices for every student, New Jersey is:

  1. Offering $10 million of the State's federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to public school districts to purchase digital devices and internet connectivity for one-to-one student use – the Department of Education will release an application for districts;
  2. Redirecting up to $44 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) funds, with an additional $6 million available for nonpublic schools, to close any remaining gap and fill the unmet digital device and internet connectivity needs of New Jersey students.

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/

Sources: Department of Education Restart & Recovery Plan: The Road Back, DOE Clarifying Guidance For Full-Time Remote Learning; DOE School Reopening Frequently Asked Questions; Checklist for the Re-Opening of School 2020-2021; Executive Order No. 175; DOH COVID-19 Public Health Recommendations for Local Health Departments for K-12 Schools