Planning for an uncertain school year

From the Legislature

By Vin Gopal, Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey

Parents have questions and concerns about the safety of their children when school starts and we are working with the state and our local school superintendents to support them in planning the safest ways to reopen.

The Department of Education on Friday announced guidelines and minimum standards for reopening schools that include allowing parents the flexibility to choose all-remote learning for their children. Governor Phil Murphy said the state will provide funds to ensure every student has the devices necessary to access the internet in order to attend remotely from home or from a socially distanced location within the school. Each school district also must have a plan to communicate with parents.

Students attending remotely still have to put in a full day and each school district is required to demonstrate the guidelines are being followed in reports to the Department of Education. Schools also have to provide at least some in-person instruction with social distancing and teachers and staff wearing masks, which also are strongly suggested for students.

We hosted a virtual roundtable with Legislative District 11 school superintendents recently and we can report that they have been including parents and teachers in developing their reopening plans. Schools are unique social systems and the way parents want them to reopen varies widely from one district to another.

The challenges are clear: how to socially distance in classrooms; getting children to wear masks for a full six hours in school; cleaning our schools effectively every day, and trying to guarantee the safety of educators and staff, especially those who are older or at-risk. Our already financially stressed school districts are wrestling with these challenges, and many others, while addressing potential cuts in state aid next month.

Our job as state legislators is to support our schools in keeping children and teachers safe and Assemblywoman Downey offered suggestions on how to accomplish a socially distant and affordable opening in testifying before the Assembly Education Committee last week.

We also need to support parents and we are asking the governor to continue the mandate that any parent who can work from home is allowed to do so. They need to know their kids will be safe with socially distanced seating and mask-wearing requirements if they ride a bus. They need to know right away if someone in their child’s classroom tests positive for the virus and that there will be immediate and anonymous contact tracing. Parents whose children rely on free or reduced lunch at school for a healthy meal need to know it will be provided, either at their desks in school or by home delivery.

Finally, we need to make sure our schools have the resources they need to accomplish these safety measures and we are fighting to preserve school aid in the state budget.

As we move toward a safe reopening of our schools, we will continue to listen to our Legislative District 11 educators and parents to make sure your voices are heard in Trenton. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@njld11.com or by phone at (732) 695-3371 to share your thoughts and concerns. We will continue to provide information to Legislative District 11 residents through our social media sites and emails. If you would like to be added to our email list, please go to tinyurl.com/LD11Updates.

Kids are resilient. Teachers and school staffs are amazing. Legislative District 11 parents care deeply for their children and their communities. We’ll get through this together.

Stay safe.