Governor Murphy and NJ DOE Release Guidance on Returning Children to Schools This Fall

By: David J. Detweiler, Writer / Follow South Jersey Child Welfare Intern

BRIDGETON, N.J. — Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Education released “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education” this past Friday.

This new set of guidelines and requirements changes the structure of an average day at school. The plan elaborated on practicing social distancing while participating in activities such as bus riding, eating lunch, physical education classes, walking in the hallways, and learning in a classroom.

Methods that will be utilized to keep everyone throughout educational institutions safe include: six-foot social distancing, enhanced cleanings, face masks, and staggered lunchtimes.

Social distancing with a minimum of six feet was a goal repeated throughout the document. Classrooms are required, if possible, to distance seating by six feet. Turning desks to not face each other would be ideal as well. If a six-foot separation between students can’t be achieved, physical barriers should be considered in classrooms. Tape should be placed throughout schools to help individuals keep the proper distance.

Additionally, schools are required to incorporate a schedule for deep cleanings regularly. Sanitation stations are to be placed throughout schools, and constant hand-washing should be enforced. The cafeteria staff are expected to wash their hands directly after taking off their gloves or handling food-serving equipment that was previously used.

The plan also requires lunchrooms to be disinfected after groups of students leave.

Face masks are used as the ultimate alternative if distancing requirements aren’t met. For example, students and staff need to have a cover on their face for the duration of the school day if the classrooms are unable to space seating accordingly.

Lunchtimes should be staggered to avoid large gatherings and ease the difficulty of enforcing social distancing. Cafeterias should discontinue buffet-style serving as well. Students should also consider eating meals either outside or in classrooms.

Bus riding and participating in physical education classes must also be adapted to our current situation in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the education setting. Governor Murphy and the NJDOE didn’t fail to give these activities specific guidelines.

If the weather allows it, windows of school buses should always be open to increase the ventilation of air throughout the vehicle. Buses are now required to seat one child per row, and Gov. Murphy recommends seating a child every other row, as well. In the event this can’t be achieved, physical barriers that separate children are required. As a last resort, face masks are required for the duration of the ride if none of these guidelines are met.

Students are also asked to come to school in comfortable clothing to eliminate the need to change for gym class. Ultimately, this limits the use of locker rooms, which the state implies should be closed in schools. Outside areas must be inventoried, and certain areas should be closed off to ensure safety. Additionally, recess should be staggered to avoid larger groupings.

Schools are required to create a policy to screen anyone who enters. When any coronavirus symptoms are identified, that individual must be isolated from everyone else in the building. Whenever a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the school must notify all attendees and workers while maintaining the confidentiality of that person.

If in-person instruction becomes unsafe, educational institutions need to be prepped to reintroduce online learning. “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education” states that schools will prioritize getting technology into the hands of kids who need it.

Conducting hybrid classes is an alternative solution mentioned in this plan. This would be the happy medium between learning for the entirety of the week either in-person or online. A recent article on explained how these hybrid classes could possibly be held, by splitting grade levels into three groups and rotating them in and out of the school every third day while the other teams utilize remote learning until their turn comes to enter the school. Under this system, students would not return to school on the same day each week, but it would accommodate certain schools’ schedules that already exist.

Some of the other suggestions talk about setting up “A” and “B” weeks to cycle kids in and out of school in two groups based either on grade level or not. These methods would rotate the students weekly, so kids would be in the classroom for longer stretches of time.

All schools in New Jersey are required to release their specific plans for their return 30 days before their intended date to open. Bridgeton Public Schools currently haven’t released any specific details on how their reopening will look at this time.

This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.