As New Jersey parents and students prepare for the new academic year, county health and school officials are looking over new guidance released by the state this week.
It outlines how local health departments and school districts should work together during the pandemic, including how many positive cases should warrant a school closure.
Each New Jersey school district has been instructed to make its own plan, and many districts are offering a hybrid plan with a full-remote option. For some parents, the choice is a hard one.
“I’m kind of considering homeschooling my younger one because my oldest is about to graduate,” said Lynn Anderson of Camden.
“My 7-year-old is looking forward to going to 2nd grade and I just think she’ll do better with being inside the classroom,” said Sharde Lyles, whose daughter will start remotely in the Camden School District.
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Schools that are opening their doors for in-person instruction are getting ready. The Pennsauken School District is setting up socially distanced classrooms, and using new sanitizing equipment, preparing for a hybrid school year that will start on September 8.
Superintendent Dr. Ronnie Tarchichi says 40% of families in the district chose the remote learning option.
“We’ll have 60% of students who want in-person instruction. Then on any given day, we’ll have 30% of our total population in the school so it allows for complete social distancing,” he said.
On Thursday, new guidelines were released from the New Jersey Department of Health, giving guidance for local health departments as they work with schools during the pandemic.
“It’s a good resource for us. We’ve been waiting for it,” said Dr. Paschal Nwako, Camden County Health Officer.
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Camden County’s Health Officer says he’s been talking with principals and superintendents all summer as they prepare their schools. The new guidelines group New Jersey’s counties into regions, which will be assigned a risk color each week.
“It shows in color if it’s green, yellow, orange or red in areas where the schools will have to close,” said Nwako.
County health departments will also assist with contact tracing if a student or staff member tests positive. The guidance says school officials should consult with local health officials as they determine if their school should pivot to remote learning because of positive cases.
“The governor’s doing a lot and I think it would be difficult for him to know the intricacies of every single school district. So it makes sense to put it in our hands,” said Tarchichi, adding that he’s going to do everything in his power to keep in-person classes going, because of feedback he’s received from parents.
Some New Jersey districts have already decided to start the year remotely, saying they need more time and resources to meet safety standards. Earlier this week Gov. Phil Murphy said districts that cannot meet safety standards can start remotely, but must submit a plan and a target date for in-person classes to resume.
Video: NJ schools will start all-remote learning if unable to meet safety standards (ABC 6 Philadelphia)