Officials: Long-term school closures inevitable

The emphasis from Gov. Phil Murphy Friday is that long-term school closures are inevitable. And although kids seem to be more resistant to the novel coronavirus, health experts say shutdowns can be an effective means for containing the spread.

With each day a new set of closures. Friday, Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet sharing unprecedented details — 354 districts closing or closed, 90 districts shut due to concerns about potential exposure to COVID-19 in the community, four closed due to confirmed exposure, and one district has a presumptive or confirmed positive case of the coronavirus.

“We have collected emergency plans from 307 school districts detailing the plan they have in place to continue providing education to students many districts have taken professional development days to prepare for a closure,” Repollet said.

The state Department of Education is coordinating with agencies to help provide child care and meals for students who rely on breakfast and lunch programs. Murphy said that’s the key reason he’s not mandating a statewide shutdown. Fifteen percent of public school districts don’t have a plan food for students in need.

“That’s over 200,000 kids without a plan. You guys did a survey of remote learning and how many kids have a device. Guess what, out of the 1,400,000 kids, 259,000 don’t have devices. When we talk about taking a step like this it’s not that we don’t think it’s a smart thing to do but we gotta do it responsibly,” Murphy said.

School faculty and staff have been preparing lessons via Google Classroom, Class DoJo, or plain old paper packets for those without internet service. In Jersey City a district-wide shutdown will begin Monday. It’s the state’s second largest public school system.

“We have a Google Classroom model and with that it provides a lesson it provides an assessment it provides every interaction with a teacher by way of text and so those circumstances it replicates a classroom structure very similarly and you want kids to be engaged,” said Jersey City Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker. “We have 21 sites that will be available to serve breakfast provide breakfast lunch and even dinner meals it will be grab and go but those sites will be avail for our students.”

But spring is a critical time of year with tests, finals, AP Exams, SATs and college applications. How will the schools keep up?

“It’s an enormous challenge for New Jersey Schools. And what we don’t know is how long will this last, weeks or months?” said NJ Spotlight founding editor John Mooney.

Murphy said staff will be meeting and developing that game plan rather quickly and looking to make sure no student or family falls behind in the process.