Select school districts in New Jersey will start the new year in a remote-learning fashion, due to significant transmission of COVID-19 in their school buildings, or the threat of an outbreak. And there's concern that many more will have to follow suit once students return to school from winter break and interact in-person after potential exposure to the virus during holiday gatherings.

Schools and their staff are more prepared to run lessons over video conferencing platforms, compared to last spring, but it remains to be seen how students would handle the return to a virtual world of learning.

"I need to be in the classroom, not on a computer," Jeannie Tamarone, a middle-school student in Monmouth County, told New Jersey 101.5. "But if we're forced to go back online for school, that's what I'll do — I have no choice."

The New Jersey Department of Health reported 7,716 new COVID-19 cases among students in the week ending Dec. 19, along with 2,092 cases among school staff, with less than two-thirds of schools reporting during that week.

"I think we have to be more alert to the fact that there may be some kids that are going to have difficulty," Maurice Elias, professor of psychology at Rutgers University, said of students returning to remote schooling. "There's kids who definitely have a hard time focusing without the help of adults — it is easier for teachers to get kids' attention live than when they are on Zoom."

Elias noted that kids' mental health is better when they're with their peers; that interaction essentially disappears in an online classroom. But hopefully the return to remote learning would be an extremely temporary situation, not another months-long ordeal like the one that launched at the onset of the pandemic in New Jersey, he said.

Parents can help the situation for their children, he added, by having a positive attitude, even if they believe the remote-learning setup is less than ideal.

"If we walk around saying, 'Oh my God, this is going to be awful for kids mental health,' we will be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy," Elias said. "Kids reflect what they hear at home."

Prior to winter break, a number of districts informed parents that kids would return in 2022 in a remote format, at least temporarily. The South Orange & Maplewood School District, for example, is keeping everybody out of the schools until Jan. 10, in order to protect the health of staff and students.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at

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