N.J. coronavirus recovery: State says some schools to begin remotely

Rows of school buses

Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Zelienople, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

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New Jersey officials reported Wednesday 484 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 185,938. Nine additional deaths were added to the death toll, which now stands at 14,046. The number of probable deaths was adjusted downward to 1,839. The rate of transmission declined slightly to 0.92.

Schools to start year remotely if precautions can’t be met.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday schools that certify they cannot meet health and safety standards by the first day of class, must start the year with all remote learning.

The announcement comes a couple of days after the board for the Elizabeth School District in Union County voted to start the school year remotely; counter to Murphy’s insistence that some form of in-person learning take place.

The Elizabeth district in North Jersey is the state’s fourth largest with more than 27,000 students. A spokesperson for the district told the network that more than 400 teachers have opted out of in-person classes due to health concerns.

It also comes amid pressure from the legislature as some Assembly Democrats proposed an all-remote start to the school year. Under the proposal, formally introduced Monday, the soonest that re-opening classrooms could be considered is at the end of October.

The about-face was first reported by CBS News. But Murphy insists that it was not a change from the approach his team took several weeks ago when they started discussing how to reopen schools.

“For the past six weeks, we have relied on the work of local educational communities to determine the best way for their schools to reopen,” he said. “We have provided significant flexibility, including providing parents and guardians with the option to choose all-remote learning for their student.”

The governor also added that they’ve adjusted expectations based on science and data available, like mandating face masks for all students.

Murphy invited school district superintendents from East Brunswick and Willingboro to the briefing to share their reopening plans which are very different from each other.

East Brunswick Superintendent Dr. Victor Valeski said his district was ready to reopen with a hybrid option. “Our objective was to exceed the minimum requirements articulated in the road back guidance from the Department of Education,” he said adding that all students in the district will have some form of virtual instruction.

By contrast, Willingboro Superintendent Dr. Neely Hackett said her district has decided to go all-remote only for the first marking period, which runs through Nov. 18.

“In collecting feedback from our families, we found that the overwhelming majority were not comfortable sending their children back to school,” Hackett said.

She also cited other issues the district is dealing with such as inadequate ventilation systems at schools and issues in getting personal protective equipment ordered for staff and students and physical barriers. Hackett also said staff needs additional training on “the complexities” of the hybrid learning model and enhanced cleaning protocols.

The state health department in conjunction with the education department has been developing guidelines for school districts, including a risk assessment, similar to how the flu is monitored. The plans could be finalized as soon as Thursday.

Major announcement on remote learning expected

Gov. Phil Murphy’s office says a major announcement on facilitating an all-remote learning option is expected during Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing.

The about-face, first reported by CBS News, comes as the board for the Elizabeth School District in Union County voted to start the school year remotely. The school board’s action Monday is counter to what Murphy had insisted on; some form of in-person learning.

The Elizabeth district is the state’s fourth-largest and has more than 27,000 students. A spokesperson for the district told the network that more than 400 teachers have opted out of in-person classes due to health concerns.

There has also been pressure from the legislature as three Democrats in the Assembly proposed an all-remote start to the school year. Under the proposal, reopening classrooms could not be considered until the end of October.

The bill was formally introduced Monday.

Businesses tell Murphy to hit ‘play’ on reopening

Dozens of business groups signed on to a letter asking Murphy to move forward with reopening the rest of the state’s economy.

The New Jersey Business Coalition in a letter with the subject “New Jersey Recovery and Reinvention Framework 2.0” aims to explain why Murphy should exit “pause mode” and allow more businesses to reopen.

Michele Siekerka, the president of coalition member New Jersey Business and Industry Association, told New Jersey 101.5 that the business community needs to see what the plan is if “pause mode” continues.

“We’ve heard all along that data determines dates — that’s the governor’s words — and right now the data is clear that New Jersey is ready to continue the reopening process,” she told the station.

The governor, responding to the letter, said he would be “diplomatic” in saying there’s a “fair amount of daylight” between what was said in the letter and interactions between members of his administration and the individual members of the coalition.

But Murphy added that he has nothing but sympathy for those who suffered economically due to the pandemic. However, he returned to his mantra of “public health creates economic health.”

“With all due respect to folks who see only the economic health side of this, they’re not seeing the whole picture,” he said.

The governor also pointed to other states who have seen a dramatic rise in cases and that New Jersey also had to respond to an uptick in infections that included reducing capacity for indoor spaces.

“Let’s stop kidding ourselves, we’ve got to break the back of this virus; that is job number one and only then do we get the economic health that we all aspire to including yours truly,” Murphy added.

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