N.J. coronavirus update: Pandemic continues to impact ‘strong start’ to new school year

Students wearing face masks line up to enter Christa McAuliffe School

Students line up to enter Christa McAuliffe School in Jersey City, N.J., Thursday, April 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Ask us about COVID-19: What questions do you have about the coronavirus and vaccines?

The new school year in New Jersey is off to a strong start, according to Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, the state’s acting education commissioner.

She gave a report Wednesday on the status of schools as they opened for full-time, in-person learning for the first time since the pandemic began.

“While our school systems rode forward out of the pandemic, prioritized the return to full-time, in-person learning for all school districts and charter and renaissance schools,” she said, “we must recognize that COVID-19 continues to impact how students learn and educators teach.”

She cited the face mask mandate for all people in school buildings, vaccination requirements for teachers and staff, and virtual instruction for students who are in quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus.

So far, seven schools have reimplemented virtual instruction due to COVID outbreaks, according to Allen-McMillan. Three of those districts remain remote.

According to state data, there have been 23 outbreaks at schools affecting 82 students and 20 staff members. Mercer County leads the state with six confirmed outbreaks linked to 30 cases. Atlantic County follows with four confirmed outbreaks, linked to 12 cases.

Promising that schools would hold classes in-person for the 2021-2022 school year, Gov. Phil Murphy allowed his executive order that permitted virtual or remote learning to expire at the end of the last academic year.

Remote learning is permitted if there is a localized outbreak or other emergency, like the recent severe storms resulting from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. A group of parents has been pushing for a virtual option, citing medical concerns for their children or a “medically fragile” member of their household. Murphy has not budged from his “unequivocal” decision.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal