Stay open, go remote or in between? Murphy argues for in-person instruction

For now, he’s left it to locals to make the call. And more are saying ‘stay home’
Credit: (Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office)
Sept. 10, 2020: Teaching an online class at Sharon Elementary School, Robbinsville

Schools may prove Gov. Phil Murphy’s trickiest balancing act of the pandemic.

While the governor has been a forceful voice for restrictions on businesses and other activities, Murphy has pressed hard for schools to reopen as much as possible.

But in a strategy that some have contested, Murphy has left it to local districts to decide, and that has drawn a very mixed response from the state’s education leaders.

On Wednesday, Murphy announced the latest numbers, and in data released by his administration, districts are clearly leaning toward more remote instruction — no matter what Murphy says.

The state Department of Education’s breakdown showed an additional 82 districts and other public school systems have moved to all-remote in the past month. The number of districts staying with all in-person dropped slightly to just one in 10, and the number of districts using a hybrid model comprising both remote and in-person instruction fell by more than 70.

Now, nearly a third of the more than 800 districts, charter schools and special-needs schools surveyed are all-remote — including many of the state’s largest districts — and more than half are hybrid, the department said.

Find your district or county here.

Here’s the latest breakdown statewide:

  • 89 districts and charter schools are teaching an all in-person model, down from 97 in early November;
  • 438 are using a hybrid model, including both in-person and remote learning, down from 513;
  • 246 are using all-remote instruction, up from 164;
  • 38 are using a combination of remote in some schools and in-person in others.

Murphy at his press briefing Wednesday continued to push for in-person instruction and flipped the argument to point out that more than half of the districts are still providing at least some. He announced an additional four outbreaks in schools for a total of 70 statewide, affecting 285 students, a relatively small total considering the coronavirus spread in the thousands statewide.

“The fact that there are positive cases impacting our school communities is not news,” he said. “We knew as we entered the school year that students, faculty, or staff would contract coronavirus. And that has happened — but mostly through out-of-school activities.

“Overall, we have confidence that the protocols that are in place to protect against in-school transmissions are working as designed and as intended.”

Nevertheless, Murphy acknowledged that schools are sure to be relying on at least some remote instruction, and he cited dropping numbers of districts still faced by a shortage of technology. He said about 33,000 students are without the necessary devices or connectivity, a big drop from even the start of the school year.

“This has been real progress,” he said. “And those districts that still have unfulfilled needs cite mostly supply-chain or delivery delays as the reasons for their students not having everything they need … We continue to work diligently to close the remaining gap.”