The Leadership for Educational Excellence, a coalition of the state’s major educational organizations, including NJSBA, this week identified four priorities that must be met for the state to successfully reopen schools.

In a June 17 letter to the members of their respective associations, the leaders of the six LEE  organizations called for “clear and universal” health and safety guidelines to serve as the foundation for a school reopening plan.

“Simply directing schools to follow generic CDC guidelines, without customizing requirements for the realities of the school setting in New Jersey, is insufficient for a safe school reopening statewide,” the LEE letter states. “We need clear health and safety requirements from the New Jersey Department of Health specifically for schools. For planning and training purposes, we need this information now.”

The coalition has addressed issues surrounding the closing of schools and their pending reopening with senior staff of the governor’s office and Department of Education officials.  Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet has indicated that he will recommend a school reopening plan to the governor this week, although a date for release of a final plan has not been announced.

“We have been working tirelessly to convey to state officials the need for guidance, support and resources to enable districts to successfully meet the needs of their students when schools reopen,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “In addition to clear guidelines from the state, our recommendations include adequate planning time for districts, regulatory flexibility, and additional resources to meet health and safety needs.”

“New Jersey schools will face an estimated $490 per pupil expenditure for PPE (personal protective equipment), in addition to cost increases for transportation, facilities, sanitization, staffing (particularly nurses), and technology,” states the LEE letter. “Even with the availability of federal CARES Act monies, the reality is that our schools need additional funding to reopen safely.”

The coalition is also recommending a statewide procurement process for PPE, which would promote cost-efficiency.

Citing the complexity of school district operations, the LEE organizations also called for a 60-day planning timeline for the reopening of schools.

“Schools are unique and complex environments with many variations statewide,” the LEE organization leaders explained. “Master schedules, course offerings, and hundreds of staffing and operational decisions must be made at the local level, whether schools operate virtually, in-person or on a hybrid basis.”

The June 17 letter from Leadership for Education Excellence can be accessed here.

In May, NJSBA issued a special report, “Searching for a New Normal in New Jersey’s Public Schools,”  which addressed the academic, mental health and logistical challenges facing districts when schools reopen. The report has guided the Association in its advocacy on issues surrounding the reopening of schools.

The Leadership for Educational Excellence includes the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, the NJEA, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and the New Jersey PTA.