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Flexibility, local input crucial strengths of NJ school reopening guidelines

Flexibility, local input crucial strengths of NJ school reopening guidelines

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Credit the Murphy administration up front for recognizing the importance of getting students back into classrooms. Online teaching is inherently less effective, and for many disadvantaged students it’s pretty much worthless.

“Children need to return to a school environment in some capacity,” Lamont Repollet, education commission, said recently in announcing school reopening guidelines. “This is a matter of educational growth, and it’s a matter of equity.”

Gov. Murphy himself underscored the need for each of the state’s more than 500 districts to develop their own plans under the guidelines, saying a “one-size fits all approach” isn’t possible, especially since “the ability to make local decisions has always been a hallmark of education in New Jersey.”

All schools must offer some in-person classes. The guidelines include basic initial requirements for reopening plans, such as staff wearing masks, students wearing them when they can’t stay 6 feet apart, enhanced cleaning procedures, masks or distancing on school buses, and screening students daily for COVID-19.

School districts must notify parents and caregivers of their reopening plans at least a month before school starts in the fall.

Several districts provided preliminary plans last week to NJ Advance Media, and nearly all will split schedules to reduce the number of students in class on a given day. Typically half would have classes one week and online learning the next week, when the other half would attend class in person. Some expect to alternate students in two-day schedules,

The district in Summit, Union County, so far expects to offer in-class instruction to all students five days a week, requiring them to wear masks except during mask breaks.

In South Jersey, Gloucester Township is surveying parents to see if they prefer all students in school for four or five days a week, wearing masks except during recess and lunch, or would rather have students alternating attendance two days a week.

All districts will offer the option of just continuing the online instruction that has been available since Murphy closed the schools in March.

The governor said districts should be prepared in case he decides to close schools again in response to more people testing positive for the coronavirus.

His administration should monitor the varied approaches and outcomes of reopening school districts and quickly identify what works and what doesn’t in keeping coronavirus contagion at an acceptably low level. The state’s first task is to determine best practices and then encourage their use throughout New Jersey. Only then should Murphy consider whether it might be necessary to return the children of New Jersey to a much inferior educational experience.

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