The state released a series of coordinated recommendations and guidance documents on June 28 to assist school districts and educators as they develop local reopening plans for the 2021-2022 school year.

All public school districts in New Jersey are expected to provide full-time, in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. The guidance released Monday includes health and safety recommendations that provide strategies to reduce risks to students and staff from COVID-19 while still prioritizing full-time, in-person learning.

The guidance also includes a self-assessment of district readiness to accelerate learning and to provide supportive school climates; and a compilation of specific, research-backed priorities and practices to accelerate learning. The health and safety guidance document replaces the protocols outlined in Executive Order No. 175 and in the NJDOE’s The Road Back.

School Year 2021-2022 Health and Safety Guidance  The guidance document details recommendations designed to provide a healthy and safe environment for students and staff during the 2021-2022 school year. These strategies are recommendations, not mandatory standards, the state said in a press release. The absence of one or more of these strategies should not prevent school facilities from opening for full-day, in-person operation. Schools are encouraged to implement as many layers as feasible while providing fulltime, in-person instruction.

According to the press release outlining the guidance, the strategies and procedures include, but are not limited to:

  • Maintaining physical distance between students to the extent practicable. This recommendation must not prevent a school from offering fulltime in-person learning; districts should implement physical distancing only to the extent they are equipped to do so while still providing regular in-person school operations.
    • Interventions to aid with social distancing include facing desks in the same direction and avoiding group seating arrangements.
  • Putting procedures in place to identify and respond to a student or staff member who becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Maintaining close communication with local health departments to share information and resources on COVID-19 transmission, prevention, and control measures and to establish procedures for notification and response to illness. Schools should also maintain transparent and ongoing communication, as appropriate, with their staff, students, and caregivers regarding school operations and health and safety information.

Updated CDC guidance on whether students will be required to wear masks is expected prior to the start of the 2021-2022 school year. The CDC guidance will affect the final recommendations from the state for masking this fall. However, barring a significant change in health metrics, school districts will be able to determine masking policies at the local level. Regardless of the district’s policy on masking, schools cannot prevent students or staff from wearing masks if they choose.

Reopening Self-Assessment for the 2021-2022 School Year  The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) also released a self-assessment tool that school districts may use to develop and implement interventions needed to successfully transition to fulltime, in-person learning. The self-assessment provides guiding questions and resources in various topics, including learning acceleration, supporting the social-emotional needs of students and educators, attendance, discipline, support for student subgroups, and districts’ financial obligations.

Learning Acceleration Guide: A Compilation of Principles and Practices in New Jersey  Additionally, NJDOE is releasing a guidance document that will complement the self-assessment by providing specific research based principles and strategies to accelerate learning and prepare students for the new school year. This resource is designed not only to help recover from COVID-19, but as a long-term, comprehensive framework that anchors districts’ academic, social, and behavioral interventions to the common purpose of promoting global competitiveness for all students.

The three documents can be found on the NJDOE website.