(The Center Square) – Three New Jersey Assembly Democrats say schools should open up remotely for the 2020-21 school year, but Gov. Phil Murphy says that option may not be possible for all children.
Assembly members Mila Jasey, D-Essex/Morris, Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden/Burlington
and Joann Downey, D-Monmouth drafted a bill that would delay in-person learning until at least Oct. 31. After that date, officials would consider reopening on a month-to-month basis.
School districts would also be able to choose to delay opening virtually for two weeks to allow educators a chance to prepare for online learning. Outdoor events with teacher, parents and students would be allowed as long as they followed state health guidelines.
“School is set to begin in just a few weeks, and it is not clear that a safe and comfortable environment can be maintained for students and staff,” Jasey said in a statement. “As a former board of education member and a public health nurse, I understand that New Jersey has made strong progress in combating COVID-19, but reopening schools for in-person instruction would feel like a step backward at this time.”
Murphy said the situation is a very difficult call.
“We know this unequivocally – that in-person education dwarfs remote learning in terms of the efficacy and the richness of that experience,” the governor said at his Wednesday news conference.
Lampitt acknowledged that in-person learning is the best option.
“However, until we can ensure the safety of our students and school staff, we must focus our efforts on how we can enhance remote and virtual learning to provide students with the highest quality education possible,” Lampitt said in a statement.
Murphy said deciding on school opening was different than deciding on when to reopen restaurants for indoor dining safely. People have a choice whether to eat out or at home, he said. Some children don’t have access to remote learning or a separate room where they study.
“We have too many kids where the second choice either doesn’t exist, or it’s so far inferior,” Murphy said. “There’s no real plan B so we have to keep that in mind.”
It’s about more than the students, Downey said.
“We also must keep in mind our valued teachers, many of whom have health concerns or fear bringing the virus home to their families,” Downey said in a statement. “We can’t predict how the virus will impact New Jersey this fall, but we do know it will likely be complicated by flu and allergy season. For the safety of all, our best course of action is to focus our efforts on improving remote instruction, closing the digital divide and keeping our students safe.”
Murphy said he didn’t know when he would have further guidance on the upcoming school year.
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