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TRENTON — State legislators this week approved a bill that would allow for remote learning in order for schools to meet the 180-day school-year requirements in the event of an emergency.

The bill, which heads to the governor’s desk for his signature, was part of a large package of coronavirus-related legislation to address the effects of the public health crisis on everything from education to health care to unemployment benefits.

Although state guidance from the Department of Education earlier this month already outlined the parameters for which schools could use remote learning during a mandated public health closure to meet the school-day obligation, legislative officials said the new bill would make necessary clarifications and codify the rules.

“This bill is necessary based on existing law and functions to codify some of the evolving guidance from the Department of Health and Department of Education in response to the coronavirus,” said Cecilia Williams, deputy press secretary for the Assembly Majority Office.

The proposed law would apply to closings of public and private schools of more than three consecutive days in response to a declared state of emergency, public health emergency, or when a directive from the appropriate health agency or officer is given.

It also makes provisions to protect unionized public school employees during a public health emergency.

“We’re now at the point where school closures have students learning from home. During these times and those ahead, ensuring school districts are equipped with the guidelines and flexibility for remote instruction when it needs to happen is crucial. At the end of the day, schools should not feel compelled to keep children in classes if they would be safer learning from home,” bill sponsor Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem, said.

The Assembly passed the bill Monday, and the Senate approved it Thursday.

In addition, the Legislature approved a bill to aid New Jersey school districts in feeding children enrolled in free or reduced-price school lunch and breakfast programs during extended school closings for COVID-19.

The bill would give direction to school districts on the provision of school meals to be distributed to students at local centers if the New Jersey Department of Health or health officer of the jurisdiction orders a school to close. Schools unable to provide meals would be required to establish a food voucher system to ensure all children continue to have access to proper nutrition.

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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