Gov. Phil Murphy has announced New Jersey schools will now have the opportunity to start their school years completely virtually if they determine they can’t meet a number of health and safety requirements for in-person instruction. But schools must present a plan to be able offer a partial back-in-school schedule by a specified date.

According to Richard Bozza, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the plan does not go where he had hoped it would — to an all-virtual scenario for all schools initially.

He said with only a few weeks before the start of school, officials will need to immediately regroup and review plans to make a determination about what can and cannot be done with regard to safely offering in-person instruction.

Bozza said he finds it interesting that schools are being told to do things that no one else in New Jersey is allowed to do.

“We may bring hundreds of students together but indoor gatherings are limited to 25. Indoor dining is not allowed but we can do that with students within the school environment," he said. "We find those different in standards to be somewhat alarming.”

He said even if students eat their lunch in a classroom instead of the cafeteria, those rooms will have to be sanitized.

“It’s a concern because kids obviously have to take their masks off and they’re in the indoor environment with less than optimal air circulation,” he said.

Steve Beatty, the secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association and a former classroom teacher, said the teachers union still believes schools should not reopen “until we know they’re healthy and safe, and right now they’re not.”

He said the NJEA is thankful to be able to “move the needle a little bit” and get Gov. Murphy to provide the option for school districts to be all-virtual at the start.

He pointed out New Jersey has done a better job than other states but “it is a matter of life and death and we’re not there yet.”

Bozza expressed frustration that this new plan is being thrust upon school districts right before the start of the new school year instead of a few months ago when everyone could have done a more measured review of requirements and options.

Bozza said a problem schools may have is lining up enough teachers, which means they will try to get substitute teachers.

“And if you can’t get a substitute, the only thing you can potentially do is combine students together, which would be a violation of the expectations for social distancing," he said. "All of that creates a very real issue, we’ve got a great challenge ahead.”

He pointed out many schools have poor ventilation so the problem could quickly become severe.

“Inside, poor ventilation, a sedentary place for a long period of time is a recipe for disaster, and that’s describing schools,” he said. “Kids coming into school now are going to be exposed to frightening conditions. It’s going to be far from what school is supposed to look like.”

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