N.J. parents must send kids to in-person school this fall, Murphy says

Tray Ling

Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order allowing for virtual school during the coronavirus pandemic will not be renewed after this academic year, officially ending the option for online learning, the governor said Monday. “Neatly stated, through this action, we are declaring that all students will be back in school for full-time, […]

Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order allowing for virtual school during the coronavirus pandemic will not be renewed after this academic year, officially ending the option for online learning, the governor said Monday.

“Neatly stated, through this action, we are declaring that all students will be back in school for full-time, in-person instruction come the start of the 2021-2022 school year,” Murphy said during a COVID-19 media briefing in Trenton.

Murphy previously announced schools must fully open for in-person instruction in the fall and virtual learning will not be an option in New Jersey. Allowing his executive order from August 2020 to expire at the conclusion of this school year will make that decision official, he said.

“We are facing a much different world than one year ago, when we had to begin planning for this school year,” the governor said. “We know much more about this virus and how it spreads. We have much more on-the-ground experience in fighting it. And we have a robust vaccination program that now reaches adolescents as young as 12.”

Students and teachers with health issues that could put them at greater risk of a serious COVID-19 case will have a virtual option, Murphy said in March. And schools need the right protocols in place, he said. The state will likely announce required safety measures for next school year over the summer, he said.

“Of course, we will continue to follow the science, and should there be a localized outbreak or other emergency, we will act accordingly,” Murphy said. “Otherwise, buildings will be fully open.”

The comments come as New Jersey’s daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to decline and as the state prepares to take sweeping reopening steps this week.

More than 300 school districts are now offering full in-person instruction, but many families have decided to keep children learning remotely, even though they could attend classes in-person. The vast majority of other districts are offering hybrid instruction.

Only 12 school districts or charter schools remained in all-remote learning as of last week as they work through various challenges to reopening.

Murphy’s decision not to allow virtual learning will help school districts limit the scope of their planning for the fall.

“Now we turn a corner, and students, educators and parents throughout New Jersey can look forward to the full return to safe, in-person instruction at the start of the 2021–2022 school year,” said Angelica Allen-McMillan, the state’s acting commissioner of education.

Though the state is moving in the right direction, schools have more work to do before they can guarantee that every student and staff member is in a safe environment, said Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. Districts need to use federal aid in the most targeted and effective ways to ensure safety, she said.

“Unfortunately, there are still many school buildings throughout the state that don’t meet minimum standards for the health and safety of students and educators,” Blistan said.

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Adam Clark may be reached at [email protected]. Have a news tip or a story idea about New Jersey schools? Send it here.

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