New Jersey schools plan for next year as Gov. Murphy pushes for full reopening

MOUNT LAUREL, New Jersey (WPVI) -- At Hillside Elementary School in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, kindergartners were crafting behind plastic barriers, and masked second graders were working on writing prompts at their desks.

As the district phases in five-day in-person instruction, officials say contact tracing and other precautions are key to keeping kids in school.

"Just making sure that we keep our students here safe and our staff safe. And I do believe it's going to carry through to the fall," said principal Dr. Briean Madden.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy addressed expectations for the next school year during Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing, saying schools should not plan to offer a remote option in the fall.

"We're expecting Monday through Friday, in person, every school, every district. Obviously, if the world goes sideways, we have to revisit that," said Murphy.

In Mount Laurel, officials say about 38% of students have chosen to stay remote this year, and they anticipate some families will want that option next year.

Superintendent Dr. George Rafferty says he wants to see what conditions are like when the school year gets closer.

"Even though people are getting vaccinated, more students are coming into schools, the spread of COVID-19 is increasing according to the health department reports," said Rafferty.

Camden public schools have been all-remote for a full year but plan to begin a hybrid model next month.

Officials hope that will lead to five days in-person in the fall.

"Will we have parents who are concerned? Absolutely," said Supt. Katrina McCombs. "But we are going to do our best to communicate with them to be transparent and to make sure they can see, 'Hey, this is a safe situation, and my child will be O.K.'"

In Cherry Hill, school officials say they were already planning on five in person-days this fall - to the relief of many parents.

"It's been a struggle this year. So we're very excited. Five days, hopefully, full days, not half days," said parent Ramona Hamill.

The NJEA released the following statement Thursday:
"We share Gov. Murphy's hope that New Jersey's public schools will be able to safely and responsibly open for in-person instruction in the fall. No one can say with certainty what the pandemic will look like in September. But with competent national leadership, at last, a broader, faster vaccine rollout, and continued vigilance in our communities, there is good reason to be hopeful that conditions by that time will allow schools to safely and responsibly open for in-person instruction. We will continue to advocate for all of the mitigation strategies - including social distancing, mask-wearing, careful cleaning, and adequate ventilation - that the CDC and other experts say are necessary for as long as they say those measures necessary to keep students and staff safe in school."
Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.