Although COVID-19 cases rise in state, NJ schools move back to in-person learning

School districts make slow shift away from remote instruction, new numbers show
Credit: (Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office)
File photo: Sept. 10, 2020, an in-person class at Sharon Elementary School, Robbinsville. School districts in New Jersey are trending toward more in-person instruction.

As new COVID-19 cases see a resurgence statewide, New Jersey’s schools have so far appeared to fend off the worst of it and are actually shifting slowly to more in-school instruction. At least so far.

Gov. Phil Murphy gave the latest update on schools and said Monday that another 28 cases of in-school infections had been reported in New Jersey’s public schools, bringing the total to 111 cases linked to 25 outbreaks. Eight counties have seen no cases originating in schools at all, he said.

“We remain confident that we have the protocols in place to protect the health and safety of our schools and educational communities,” Murphy said Thursday. “These protocols are ensuring that these cases are caught quickly and that steps are taken immediately to limit further spread.”

That relative safety appears to have come across to the public and the districts themselves.

In the latest accounting released by the state Department of Education, there has been a gradual move of districts to more in-person instruction.

Out of 811 plans approved by the state overall, 87 districts were now full in-person schedules, 12 more than when schools opened, and 437 were following a hybrid model, also significantly up. Statewide, 245 have remained all-remote for now, down from 266 two weeks ago.

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“That is what we expected, the shift of districts going from all-remote to hybrid is happening,” Murphy said at a press conference on Tuesday. “It’s happening in most cases.”

The circumstances are fluid, to say the least, with Newark and Paterson, for example, having announced they would stay remote until late January. Meanwhile, districts including Collingswood, Asbury Park, Freehold and Bridgewater-Raritan moved from all-remote to a more hybrid model that combines the two, according to the state.

Murphy has stressed since the summer that he wants to get more students into in-person instruction for at least part of the day or week.

“We have talked about Paterson and Newark [staying with remote],” he said. “But a lot of schools had October and November dates around the first marking period to at least get to hybrid, and we’re seeing that.  And that needs to continue.”

By and large, the public has been supportive of schools’ responses, according to one recent poll.

A Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll last week said that 68% of respondents believed New Jersey schools had done a good or very good job in responding to the pandemic, including 29% saying very good.  Only 18% said schools had done a fair or poor job.