TRENTON, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Governor Phil Murphy announced Wednesday that New Jersey public school districts that cannot meet health and safety standards for in-person learning will start fully remotely this fall.
Murphy made the announced during an afternoon press briefing along with Kevin Dehmer, Interim Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Education.
Public schools must show plans for satisfying the in-person health and safety standards. They must also show the anticipated date to resume in-person instruction.
Murphy said there is no one-size-fits-all plan to this "difficult education situation."
"When our schools open in September, they must be ready to safely provide the high-quality education to all students that is a hallmark of New Jersey. We know the first day of school is not going to be like any other in our history. We're fully committed to getting this right," Murphy said.
In addition, Murphy signed an Executive Order officially clearing both public and nonpublic pre-K through 12 schools, and colleges and universities, to reopen for upcoming academic year.
"As many of our colleges and universities have continued offering classes during the summer, in-person instruction may fully resume as long as social distancing and other protections are strictly adhered to. Any student who chooses to continue remote learning must be accommodated," Murphy said.
Teachers Call for All-Remote Learning
News of the all-remote condition comes hours after the teachers union called on Murphy and the Department of Education to forgo in-person learning and open all schools remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While the administration is now allowing schools to go the virtual route, they will need to show the Department of Education the reason why they can't resume in-person classes.
The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), along with the New Jersey Association of School Administrators and the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, released a statement late Tuesday night calling on Governor Murphy and the state's Department of Education to direct all public schools to open remotely.
The statement read in part, "New Jersey educators and administrators have been working tirelessly to find a way to safely bring students back into school buildings in September...reopening schools for in-person instruction under the current conditions pose too great a risk to the health of students and staff."
Their statement continued: "We wish it could be different, but the facts are not in our favor. Our nation is in the middle of an uncontrolled pandemic. Our state, while doing better than many others, has not yet stopped the spread of this virus, particularly among the same young people who are scheduled to return to school in under four weeks. New Jersey's communities are still at risk, and putting students and staff inside school buildings, even with exceptional precautions, increases that risk."
The department's reopening guidance, "The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education," which was released in June, emphasizes Murphy's administration's expectation that all New Jersey's 2,500 public schools will open in some capacity for in-person instruction and operations in the fall.
The guidance said due to health and safety concerns, schools might need to take on a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning.
The administration said families can submit requests to their school districts for children to attend fulltime remote learning. All students are eligible.
Read the NJEA's full statement:
Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association, have issued this statement calling on Gov. Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Education to direct all New Jersey public schools to open remotely this fall:
"For months, New Jersey educators and administrators have been working tirelessly to find a way to safely bring students back into school buildings in September. Now, with less than a month remaining before schools are scheduled to reopen, it is time to reluctantly acknowledge that goal is simply not achievable. Reopening schools for in-person instruction under the current conditions poses too great a risk to the health of students and schools staff. The question of whether and when to reopen for in-person instruction is first and foremost a public health decision that cannot be left in the hands of nearly 600 individual school districts. The stakes are too high, and the consequences of a wrong decision are too grave. That is why we are calling on Gov. Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Education to direct all New Jersey public schools to open remotely this fall. We fully support and share the governor's goal of moving to in-person instruction as soon as the science and data say we can do so responsibly and when the resources are available in our school buildings to do it safely.
"We wish it could be different, but the facts are not in our favor. Our nation is in the middle of an uncontrolled pandemic. Our state, while doing better than many others, has not yet stopped the spread of this virus, particularly among the same young people who are scheduled to return to school in under four weeks. New Jersey's communities are still at risk, and putting students and staff inside school buildings, even with exceptional precautions, increases that risk.
"We have seen what is happening elsewhere in the country where, within a few days of opening, schools are having to transition to remote learning following outbreaks of COVID-19. Every day, through research and the experience of other states, we are learning more about the effects of this disease on children and their ability to contribute to community spread.
"We have repeatedly asked for universal statewide health standards, which have not been provided. Despite the tireless efforts of all school stakeholders, districts have struggled to meet even the minimum standards that were provided. Inadequate levels of funding, staffing, equipment and facilities will result in inequities in the level of safety afforded to all New Jersey students.
"We urge the governor to act quickly and decisively. We need the rest of the summer to focus our attention and resources on building the most effective remote learning plans possible. While remote education cannot replace in-person instruction, we believe that a carefully planned, well-resourced remote education plan is better than the dangerous, uncertain in-person alternative currently available to us.
"We also need consistent statewide guidance to allow us to focus on addressing critical equity issues. From closing the digital divide to ensuring that students have access to adequate nutrition to figuring out how to provide critical individual therapies and specialized educational services, there will be many challenges ahead. We will be better able to address those issues by all districts starting in a virtual environment, rather than investing our time and scarce resources in a likely unsustainable in-person beginning of the year.
"We remain committed to getting back to in-person instruction as soon as it is safe. It is not safe yet."