N.J. schools to remain closed for rest of academic year, with remote learning continuing (UPDATED)

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that all New Jersey school buildings will remain closed for in-person instruction through the end of the academic year — and that students will finish out the school year by remote learning.

Murphy said the decision only applies to the remainder of the 2019-2020 regular academic year. He said a determination on summer educational or other programs offered at schools may proceed at a later date.

Murphy also said all spring sports are now canceled, following guidance from the medical board of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which concluded that, due to a lack of testing, viable treatments and a vaccine, spring sports were not a viable option.

Murphy, who has said previously that the school year will not be shortened, said private schools with longer academic years will remain closed until at least June 30.

“We reach this conclusion based on the guidance from our public health experts and with a single goal in mind: the safety and well-being of our children and our educators,” Murphy said.

“I had hoped we could get back to a sense of normal by allowing our children to return to the schools they love, and to be with their friends and classmates. But the reality is that we cannot safely reopen our schools to provide students and families, or faculty and staff, the confidence needed to allow for a return to in-person instruction.”

Murphy said there were too many obstacles to overcome.

“As I have noted before, we are working with the principle that public health creates economic health — or, in this case, educational health. If the standards to reopen our workplaces are high, they are even higher when it comes to schools filled with our children,” he said.

“We simply could not find a way to reconcile that core principle and open our school buildings at this time. The hurdles — logistical, educational and, most of all, practical — that would have allowed students and faculty to return, even for a short while, could not be overcome. We could not guarantee an environment that would not only be safe, but fully capable of meeting the educational needs of students in a setting built for social distancing.”

Murphy announced that the state’s Department of Education already has applied for $310 million in federal assistance for schools — which the state is entitled to — and of which at least $280 million would flow to schools to help them cover the costs of purchasing educational technology, cleaning and sanitizing their buildings, and ensuring support services for students who require them, among other costs.

Murphy, who has a high school student of his own, said the decision was hard to make.

“This is a difficult decision and I know that many students, parents and staff would like to be able to return to school,” he said. “However, I have been unwavering on the message that we need to make decisions based on science, not emotion. And, while New Jersey is making great strides in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, science tells us that, at this point, we can’t safely reopen our schools.”

Murphy said officials will continue to search for solutions for this year’s seniors.

“I know that our graduating seniors were looking forward to their proms and walking across the stage to receive their diplomas in front of their families and friends,” he said. “I still want to see them have those opportunities, and we will also work with districts on safe and creative ways to give the Class of 2020 a proper send-off to their futures.”

Murphy announced March 18 that schools would be closed and go to remote learning, originally saying they would be out for at least two weeks. He has twice extended the closure — last saying schools would remain closed until at least May 15.

By keeping schools closed, Murphy is following the lead of states across the country — including New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

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