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By Dr. Larry Feinsod

This afternoon, Governor Murphy announced the closing of all New Jersey public and private schools, starting no later than Wednesday. It’s a preventive measure against the COVID-19 pandemic, action that the health and safety of our students, our staff members and our communities warrant.

For weeks now, New Jersey school districts have been preparing for this eventuality, with many already converting to home instruction and remote learning, while mapping strategies to provide support services such as nutritional programs. Plans have included online classes, distribution of electronic devices pre-loaded with lessons, and paper-and-pen exercises that will be consolidated into portfolios.

Of course, nothing can replace the teacher-to-student interaction in the classroom. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon school leaders, teachers, parents and caregivers to do everything possible to ensure that the learning process continues during this period.

Governance For local boards of education, district governance must also continue, even though classrooms, auditoriums, school gyms and libraries are not in use.

NJSBA has been responding to inquiries from school boards about conducting open public meetings when school facilities are closed. While boards must always consult with their own legal counsel on these matters, NJSBA’s staff attorneys recently developed an information document, Open Public Meetings Act and Technology, that school district leaders can use as a resource when determining the proper course for public meetings during the pandemic. It references the latest guidance from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs concerning compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act.

Undoubtedly, there will be many other questions in the coming weeks. They concern the budget process for the 2020-2021 school year, fulfillment of the 180-day instructional requirement, and when the closure order will be lifted.

Assurances Developments are unfolding rapidly. As of today, I can give you two assurances:

First, NJSBA will keep our members informed of all developments concerning the operation and governance of their school districts. We will use our COVID-19 resource page located at www.njsba.org/COVID-19, as well as School Board Notes, to provide the latest information from state and federal authorities and updates about NJSBA programs.

Second, as stated last week, there will be no interruption to NJSBA’s consultative, support and informational services. Our staff attorneys, policy consultants, labor relations experts, and field service staff will be available for information and guidance. Our Governmental Relations team will be monitoring all activities of the Legislature while representing the interests of local school boards.

As a service to our members, NJSBA has entered into partnerships to assist in remote and paperless meetings and distance learning, including BoardDocs and NJSBA TEC. Turn-around time for implementation of these programs has been expedited in light of the current challenges facing school districts. You can access information about these services at www.njsba.org under the “Our Services” tab.

Leadership Difficult times require strong leadership. While we expect state and federal officials to provide guidance, our school districts, our students and our families are looking to us for direction, assurance and calm.

Kudos to our board members, superintendents, administrative teams, teachers and support staff for their dedication and commitment to students during these challenging times.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at feinsodreflections@njsba.org.

March 16, 2020