COVID-19: NJ School Guidance
The Department of Education, in partnership with the Department of Health, has produced a health and safety guidance document detailing recommendations designed to provide a healthy and safe environment for students and staff during the 2021-2022 school year.
Governor Murphy announced at a June 28, 2021 press conference that all schools districts in New Jersey are expected to provide full time, in person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. The Road Forward, guidance document includes a range of strategies that Local Education Agencies (LEAs) should consider implementing to reduce risks to student and staff from COVID-19 while still allowing for full time in person learning. The guidance included in The Road Forward document is intended to replace health and safety protocols outlined in Executive Order 175 and The Road Back. Non-public schools may also utilize this document as they plan for full school re-opening in the fall. MCRHC created a summary of the screening and masking requirements set forth by Governor Murphy in August 2021.
LEAs should consider many factors as they prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, including the level of COVID-19 transmission in the community at large and in their school community, as well as vaccination coverage rates in both the community at large and their school community.
The strategies and procedures include, but are not limited to:
- Maintaining physical distance between students to the extent possible. This recommendation must not prevent a school from offering fulltime in-person learning; districts should implement physical distancing only to the extent they are equipped to do so while still providing regular in-person school operations.
- Interventions to aid with social distancing include facing desks in the same direction and avoiding group seating arrangements.
- Putting procedures in place to identify and respond to a student or staff member who becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms.
- Maintaining close communication with local health departments to share information and resources on COVID-19 transmission, prevention, and control measures and to establish procedures for notification and response to illness. Schools should also maintain transparent and ongoing communication, as appropriate, with their staff, students, and caregivers regarding school operations and health and safety information.
- Wearing masks is an important prevention strategy to help slow the spread of COVID-19, especially when combined with everyday preventative actions and social distancing in public settings
- Appropriate and consistent use of masks may be challenging for some individuals, however mask use is encouraged for individuals who are not fully vaccinated unless a mask cannot be safely worn.
The document highlights that the absence of one or more of the strategies does not prohibit the reopening of a school facility for full day in-person operation with all enrolled students and staff present. Further information on mask-wearing in schools can be found at Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention and Strategies for Protecting K-12 School Staff from COVID-19.
Equity and Inclusion
Vulnerable student populations, including students from economically disadvantaged families, students with disabilities, migrant students, English Language Learners (ELs), students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care, have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. As a result, it is crucial that LEAs plan specific strategies to help ensure that they are addressing the unique needs of these students. In order to effectively address the needs of vulnerable student groups, it is recommended that LEAs consider utilizing a tiered system of supports that meets academic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students and staff. LEAs should conduct comprehensive needs assessments that drive implementation of evidence-based practices to equitably support students and staff and ensure the effective and efficient use of federal funds.