The New Jersey Department of Education issued guidance yesterday on re-opening schools this fall. But despite its length–104 pages on everything from health and safety to cleaning–the state report leaves a lot to individual schools to determine, including how, and if, to implement a combination of in-person and remote learning. The state also cautions that reopening is “dependent upon health data and informed by experts,” and says that districts must be prepared to switch to fully remote instruction at any time during the 2020-2021 school year.
Verona has already had six action committees working on different aspects of re-opening our public schools and Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio said he expects to release a Verona-specific plan next week. Verona switched to remote learning on March 18 and had initially intended to re-open on March 30. But our district, like every other one in the state, wound up doing the entire rest of the year online.
The state guidance describes several health and safety standards to be prioritized in school reopening:
- Social distancing: Schools and districts must allow for social distancing in classrooms, with students are seated at least six feet apart. If schools can’t achieve that, they state says they should consider “physical barriers” between desks and turning desks to face the same direction or having students sit on only one side of a table and spaced apart.
- Face coverings: School staff and visitors must wear face coverings, but the state says that students are “strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and are required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained”, unless that would impair the student’s health.
- Limited capacity: This part of the report basically re-iterates the six-foot spacing rule and it says that, when weather allows, school windows should be opened.
- Cleaning/disinfecting: The state encourages increased cleaning and refers districts to guidance from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition, the state is recommending staggered meal times in cafeterias to allow for social distancing and having students eat meals outside or in their classrooms. Recess should also be staggered. The state guidance also introduces something it calls “cohorting,” which would have schools identify small groups of students and keep them together to limit exposure to large groups of students.
For more details, see the state’s Restart and Recovery Plan for Education.