New Jersey's schools WILL reopen for in-person education for the 2020-2021 school year with major changes (for safety measures) in place.

Yes, masks will be required for all faculty. Students will be strongly encouraged to wear facial covering as well. 

Education plans will vary by local districts, but a plan that is entirely virtual learning will not be allowed.  The Murphy administration recommends that districts implement a hybrid approach in which students also receive remote instruction some days.

"There is no one size fits all approach that we could take," Murphy said. Individual districts and schools will make a plan that follows the guidance from the state's Department of Education.

All of this, of course, is permitting that there isn't a further surge in COVID-19 cases.

The state Department of Education announced minimum standards that schools must follow to protect the health of students and staff. That guidance and recommendations include:

  • Masks will be required for school staff and visitors. They’re strongly encouraged for students and required when social distancing can’t be maintained, including on buses. The guidance acknowledges enforcement is impractical for students who are young or have disabilities.
  • Social distancing in classrooms, primarily by seating students at least 6 feet apart. If that’s not possible, physical barriers could be built between desks.
  • Districts must screen students and employees for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure. Those with symptoms must be safely and respectfully isolated from others. The guidance talks about observing students, though temperature checks are preferred.
  • Procedures must be implemented for sanitizing schools and school buses.
  • Cafeteria directors must stagger meal times and discontinue self-serve or buffet lines. They should consider having students eat grab-and-go meals in their classrooms.
  • Recess should also be implemented in staggered shifts, with playground equipment and other shared equipment disinfected by staff between uses.
  • Districts are encouraged to consider closing locker rooms. Instead, students would be encouraged to wear comfortable clothing and safe footwear to take part in physical education classes without needing to change clothes.
  • Social distancing is expected on school buses. The CDC recommends that only one student be seated in a row, with rows skipped between each child if possible. Barriers separating rows of seats are also possible.

"Districts must be prepared for the possibility that public health might require a switch to remote learning at any time," Murphy said. He remains vigilantly prepared for the state to make changes to the plans if necessary.

The rules will be set through an executive order, making it subject to change as needed.

The governor says that the plans have been issued now so that school districts have the entire summer to prepare. Districts are expected to share their plans at least one month before the start of the school year.

Murphy, meanwhile, praised educators, students, and their families for their dedication to education between March and the end of the school year.

Changes are likely to the state's interscholastic sports season as well.


Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Wolf also revealed that schools across his commonwealth will reopen for in-person instruction this fall. During a press conference back in late May Wolf addressed that issue:

“We are going to be opening schools, whether it’s August or September, that depends on the local school district,” Governor Wolf said. "We’re working, now, school will look different, you’ll probably have more online learning and maybe less classroom learning, there might be fewer students in each classroom on average, that kind of thing, so it probably will look different."

As a followup, reporters asked the governor how confident he was about the reopening of Pennsylvania's schools, as concerns continue to spread about a possible second wave of the virus later this year.

"That’s our plan. I mean, something might happen...yes," Wolf said when speaking to the hopes of reopening schools. "There’s an opt-out clause here that if a comet strikes, you know. But we’re doing everything we can to make sure schools are open on time in the fall,” Wolf said.

New Jersey 101.5 and Michael Symons contributed to this report. 

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