Fine Print: NJ School Boards’ Report Starts Conversation on Reopening

Ten recommendations for issues to be considered and questions to be answered
Credit: (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
Dormant school buses secured at a facility in Tempe, Ariz. Planning is underway to reopen public schools in that state for the next school year, which starts as early as July in some districts.

Title: “Searching for a ‘New Normal’ in New Jersey’s Public Schools”

Author: The New Jersey School Boards Association, representing more than 500 public boards of education statewide.

What it is: The report lays out a series of recommendations for how the state and its public schools should proceed toward reopening in the fall. The recommendations range from those about immediate support for mental health services and remedial education to those focused on providing local communities a variety of options for restarting.

What it means: As the academic year enters its last month and remote instruction set to remain in place, the next discussion will concern how schools will restart in September. The association’s report is comprehensive in raising and exploring a number of key issue, as well as still unresolved questions to be considered.

Survey results: The report also includes a survey of districts and the options they are exploring, including split schedules and alternating between in-person and remote instruction. A third of respondents said alternate scheduling is among their early plans, as were other hybrid options that involved using online instruction. Only a tenth supported the option of extending the school week to six days.

Introductory quote: “In the two months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of our public schools, everyone involved in education has made a valiant effort to transition our students to digital learning,” said NJSBA executive director Lawrence Feinsod. “But now, as we look toward the reopening of schools, New Jersey’s education community faces even greater challenges.”

The 10 recommendations:

  • Mental health: Before schools reopen, school districts “should make a sustained effort to establish a sense of calm and trust so that learning, and assessment of learning, can occur.”
  • Communication: All stakeholders should be fully informed about the steps to be taken and what the “new normal” will be.
  • Personal protective equipment: Clear guidelines should establish the level and use of PPE.
  • Emergency action plan: Before schools reopen, boards of education should revise closing plans in case school buildings are again shuttered.
  • Diagnostic tools: Assessments should be administered to determine each student’s educational progress and to identify the need for remediation.
  • Remedial programs: The state should identify available funding for school districts to address the remedial needs of students.
  • Flexibility: The New Jersey Department of Education should ensure that districts have the financial and regulatory flexibility they need to respond to the crisis.
  • Updated financial data: The state must provide local boards of education with updated information on funding for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Menu of options for reopening: Options must be developed and offered to districts for what reopening looks like, including examinations of plans in other states.
  • Help teacher candidates complete training: The state should formulate an appropriate plan to provide an adequate pool of teacher candidates for the upcoming year.