In ‘open letter,’ NJ’s top education groups offer vision of school after COVID-19

Letter addresses governor and state lawmakers, stressing ways to help students emerge from pandemic ‘emotionally strong and academically successful’
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In a move as much symbolic as anything else, New Jersey’s leading education groups released an “open letter” to Gov. Phil Murphy and other state and local leaders that called for more funding and flexibility for schools coping with COVID-19’s seismic disruption.

The letter was crafted during multiple online meetings among the leaders of New Jersey’s major teachers unions, school administrators and boards associations, and special education and other advocate groups. Seventeen organizations signed on and released the letter Thursday.

None of the recommendations are much of a surprise, especially asking for added resources to address what have been extraordinary stresses on schools. But the leaders also did request that their districts not be burdened by new state mandates they said would only add to the list of what they’re expected to accomplish.

“We have begun the search for solutions based on research and on the actual experiences of educators, students, parents, boards of education and communities,” read the letter. “We did so in the interest of providing policymakers with guidance from educational experts on what is needed now and in the future for our students to grow, learn and thrive.”

The timing of the letter is a bit preemptive, coming as the Murphy administration and Legislature are set to address a host of education issues in the coming months, not the least of which is the next state budget and its billions of dollars in state aid to schools.

The New Jersey Education Association, the politically potent teachers union, took the lead on the effort; specifically, its president, Marie Blistan, led the discussions over the past several months. Representatives from the Murphy administration and the Legislature were also on the calls.

Blistan has long espoused that schools will have to transform themselves in the aftermath of COVID-19 to address changes in both how instruction is delivered and how the needs of students are addressed, especially around mental health.

One blueprint of the talks — and ultimately the letter — is a prominent national report entitled “Restarting and Reinventing Schools” that offers a 10-point outline for reopening schools that ranges from rethinking student schedules to revamping teacher training. The report’s lead author was Linda Darling Hammond, a noted academic in education policy.

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