Governor Murphy on Aug. 13 issued an Executive Order 175, officially clearing K-12 school districts to reopen for in-person instruction as long as they can certify that social distancing and health and safety standards can be met. At the same time, the state will allow a district to begin the academic year with virtual-only instruction if it has “legitimate and documented reasons why core health and safety standards cannot be met by Day 1.”

“Our members have expressed very strong opinions on this matter, some in favor of reopening school with in-person instruction and others supporting a start of the academic year exclusively on a virtual basis,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director.

“Many school board members support students receiving in-person instruction with appropriate health and safety precautions in place, and they believe that their districts are in a position to do so,” he explained. “At the same time, many other board members have said that it is in the best interest of students for schools to reopen on an all-virtual basis.

“Even with these differing viewpoints, local school board members are united in their desire to make the right decision for children under these extraordinary circumstances,” said Feinsod.

The governor’s announcement, during his daily press briefing, marks a departure from the state’s initial July 26 reopening guidance, which required that all districts provide some level of in-person instruction when the 2020-2021 school year begins.

Kevin Dehmer, interim commissioner of education, who spoke at the press briefing, said the new policy change will ensure that schools can resume in-person instruction, while recognizing that some districts need additional time to meet health standards. Districts that do not reopen with in-person instruction will have to provide virtual education. They will also have to establish plans for reintroducing in-school instruction.

An NJSBA survey, issued as part of an ongoing research project, showed that the overwhelming majority of school districts plan to develop hybrid, or blended, learning platforms for 2020-2021. The governor said that districts which have already submitted hybrid plans for state review may change them to an all-virtual instructional basis and resubmit them for approval.

New Health Standards, Metrics At the governor’s press briefing, Dr. Judith Persichilli, commissioner of health, announced that “metrics” based on transmission rates, positive tests, and other health statistics will be applied on a regional basis to determine if in-person instruction can continue. An NJSBA report on school reopening strategies, to be released shortly, showed that similar approaches are being used in nearby states.

In addition, the health commissioner said that new standards would be issued soon to guide districts in addressing various scenarios, such as when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. [The new health standards for K-12 school districts were released on Aug. 13.]

NJSBA has been seeking strong, universal health and safety protocols from the New Jersey Department of Health to guide school districts in their operations during the pandemic.

The Association will review the Executive Order and enhanced health and safety criteria announced Aug. 12 and will provide the membership with further information.