When New Jersey students return to class in the fall, assuming they will be allowed in the buildings, what will things be like?

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, the New Jersey School Boards Association has released a special report exploring building safety, mental health of students, communication and the impact of the pandemic on academic and extracurricular programs and budgets

The report lays out multiple possible scenarios including alternating school days, partial in-person and virtual instruction and social distancing on school buses.

“Those are big challenges and yes, there would be extra expense involved, so that’s another big issue," said NJSBA Deputy Executive Director Frank Belluscio.

He said districts have concerns about achieving social distancing and assessing students who have been through a long period outside the classroom.

“Going forward, virtual instruction is going to be part of the education process in our state," he said.

Belluscio noted one major objective is “assuring parents that schools are going to be safe places for their children, and that is going to require the correct protocols as determined by public health officials and medical experts.”

Gov. Phil Murphy said the Department of Education is working on a plan with options to re-start school in the fall.

“I would hope we would be able to within a matter of weeks give folks a broad outline of what we think it will look like,” Murphy said. “You’re going to be predicting, say in early to mid June, what you believe things will look like in late August and early September. And with a virus like this, that may be easier said that done.”

The report recommends several strategies for local school district and state government:

  • Providing school districts with accurate financial data reflecting the impact of the pandemic on New Jersey’s economy, state aid to education and school budgets.
  • Engaging in early, sustained communication with parents, students and staff about safety.
  • Revising plans to ensure a smooth transition to full online instruction if schools are closed again.
  • A “menu of options” in any statewide plan for the reopening of schools so that districts can select the best strategies for their communities.
  • Providing an adequate pool of educators by enabling teacher candidates to complete training, such as classroom observations.
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