All students and teachers will return to NJ classrooms in the fall
Schools will return to full-time, in-person classes after this summer, as Gov. Phil Murphy said his executive order allowing for optional remote instruction would expire at the end of the current school year.
Monday's announcement clears up a bit of waffling, as Murphy had previously said in March that all students were expected to be back in school for the 2021-2022 school year.
That was quickly backtracked within a week to "some virtual" instruction options, as some local teachers' unions continued to voice reluctance to commit to in-person attendance.
The state's largest teachers' union was reserved in its reaction to the governor.
"We hope and expect that all New Jersey public schools will safely open for full in-person instruction in the fall. We have worked very hard as a state to create the conditions to make that possible and New Jersey is moving in the right direction" New Jersey Education Association President Marie Blistan said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5 on Monday.
"There is still work to do to ensure that every student and staff member returns to a safe learning and working environment. Unfortunately, there are still many school buildings throughout the state that don’t meet minimum standards for the health and safety of students and educators," she continued.
In announcing the definitive change at Monday's state briefing, Murphy noted that the recent FDA approval for 12- to 15-year-olds to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine would help protect school communities.
He also noted that the likelihood of the vaccine being OK'd for an even wider age range was strong, based on ongoing trials by the vaccine makers.
Various school districts and local and county health departments and hospitals had offered educator vaccine clinics in the weeks leading up to the state's now readily available supply of COVID vaccines, for which an appointment is often no longer necessary.
As of May 10, just over 90% of the state's schools or districts had been operating on hybrid or all in-person instruction, as 13 schools or districts remained on all-remote models, Murphy previously announced.
On Monday, there were nine schools or districts that reported still being all-remote, according to state education officials, including Pleasantville, Waterford, Passaic City, Paterson and Hillside public school districts.
Englewood on the Palisades Charter School, Gray Charter School, St. Joseph's School for the Blind, and Matheny School and Hospital were the others still not yet back into school buildings.
Hillside public schools have been poised to return to classrooms in a week on May 24. Paterson has reached a return date of June 1 for staff, with a very limited group of students returning a week later.
For districts either still all-remote or on sparse hybrid instruction, the lack of in-person instruction for nearly a year and a half has been an urgent issue for families concerned with "learning loss" as well as the mental health of students.
"It is critical in every district that the district administration work collaboratively with school employees and other community stakeholders to use the federal funding from the American Rescue Plan in the most targeted and effective ways possible to meet the health, safety and educational needs of our students," Blistan also said in her statement.
"Just as we have done all year in the many places where schools have been able to open for in person instruction, we will need to continue to follow the best scientific and medical guidance on how to keep students and staff safe and healthy," she added.