Murphy announces guidelines on full-time remote learning, says policy is about flexibility — not preference or mandate

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Jul 24, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy and state education leaders released guidelines Friday giving every parent or guardian the right to have their child learn remotely exclusively — and detailing how that process will work.

Murphy said the decision was the result of his administration listening to input from parents requesting this move — and that it was not a reaction to those fighting against a return to school.

“The department is releasing this guidance to make clear that this option should be allowed by school districts as part of their reopening plans,” he said. “We have heard from numerous parents and families who have asked for this, and we have heard them loud and clear. Our top priority is keeping students, their families and educators safe. And, to do that, flexibility, local decision-making and empowering parents and educators are all critical.”

Murphy said having some kids go remote full-time would help with health concerns.

“Allowing this option will help decrease the student density within our schools and allow classroom spaces to the stretch further to ensure proper social distancing for other students and staff,” he said. “The health and safety of our educational communities is paramount, and, with this guidance, we are providing districts with even greater flexibility to ensure that they can meet this need.

“We are not mandating any one specific way to move forward.”

Murphy, speaking at his COVID-19 briefing, said the decision is an example of his administration adjusting guidance as new information becomes available.

“We have to accept the fact that this (school year) is not going to be normal — that facts are evolving,” he said. “We promised we’d be open-minded and evolve with them.”

Murphy said the state’s ability to find money to close the digital divide played into it.

Murphy was referring to the announcement last week that the state would use CARES Act money to provide each student with a device and connectivity. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 kids have an issue with one of these issues or both.

He said all decisions involving schools are based on three principles:

  • Health and safety of students and school personnel;
  • The ability to best educate students;
  • Equity.

He said some families depend more heavily on in-person learning — that they do not necessarily have the resources or manpower at home to assist in teaching.

“Not everybody is in the same spot, and our plans have to encompass those objectives: What’s best for health and safety, what’s best for education, and remind ourselves that equity has to be at the center of this,” he said. “Those principles will continue to guide us.”

Here a look at the guidance that was released:

  • Universal eligibility: All students, including students who receive special education or related services, are eligible for full-time remote learning if their parent or guardian chooses.
  • Policies and procedures: School districts must set clear policies and procedures for families who want full-time remote learning for their children. School districts also need procedures for students in full-time remote learning to transition back to in-person services. These procedures should be designed to ensure that families can make necessary arrangements to prepare for their child’s transition, and to help schools maintain continuity of services.
  • Communications: School districts must communicate clearly and frequently with families, in their home language, about the availability of this offering and the related procedures.
  • Quality of programming: Students participating in all-remote instruction should receive the same quality of instruction that is provided to any other student. In addition, full-time remote programs must adhere to the same policies and regulations that in-person and hybrid programs follow regarding student attendance and the length of the school day.
  • Data reporting: To help the Department of Education evaluate full-time remote learning, school districts will report data to the department about student participation in these programs.

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