DOE to provide more funding for schools in effort to curb mental health issues, learning loss

Mental health in schools has come to the forefront in recent years and has become even more of a pressing issue during the ongoing COIVD-19 pandemic. With this in mind, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a big help for schools and students dealing with the issues at his media briefing Friday.

“We think this is the most comprehensive plan being put forth by any American state,” Murphy said. “While our schools and educators have done tremendous work in this extraordinary, stressful 11-month span to keep our kids learning, we know that our students are still facing incredible stress themselves.”

Murphy went into specifics when he announced that the Department of Education has released its plan to address not only mental health issues among students, but the learning gaps that have become apparent during the pandemic. In total, the state will be using $1.2 billion of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief assistance provided in the most recent COVID relief package.

“Ninety percent of the funds will be distributed to all of our districts and the schools that we have oversite responsibility for to be used across a broad range of COVID-related needs,” Murphy said. “This is everything from in-classroom learning loss programs that the district may want to do, or afterschool programs, all the way to new HVAC systems or other ventilation realities.”

This program promises to include $75 million in grants to help curb learning loss and help accelerate learning. Additionally, schools may apply for $30 million worth of non-competitive grant funding to help strengthen mental health support.

Murphy was joined by the acting commissioner of the Department of Education, Angelica Allen-McMillan, who helped introduce the new plan her staff had put together.

“We’ve aptly labeled our plan ‘The Road Forward,’” she said. “The Department of Education is committed to realizing its mission of supporting students, educators, and school districts and our plan furthers that mission.”

The Department of Education will also be applying for a waiver of statewide standardized test requirements from the federal government. Students will also be completing a “Start Strong” assessment to evaluate where their learning levels are at and how to move forward effectively.

In another move aimed at helping students and parents, Murphy announced that the Department of Human Services is extending COVID-related child care assistance programs for families and providers through end of June. Interested parents can learn more at the state’s COVID child care website.

Other notes from Friday’s COVID-19 briefing:

Health metrics

A total of 2,679 new cases have been confirmed via PCR testing, while 593 other new cases were confirmed via antigen testing. In total, there have been 678,306 cases and 83,192 cases confirmed by these tests, respectively.

There were 323 COVID patients discharged in hospitals throughout New Jersey on Thursday, while 216 others were newly admitted. Also, there were 33 in-hospital deaths that are awaiting lab confirmation.

The state said 64 additional fatalities have been confirmed to be from COVID-related complications. In total, 20,495 New Jerseyans have lost their lives to COVID-19, with an additional 2,289 probable deaths.

Other hospital numbers:

  • In hospital: 2,202 (2,028 confirmed, 174 awaiting confirmation);
  • In ICU: 443;
  • On ventilators: 300;
  • Rate of transmission: 91;
  • Positivity rate: 58% (from Feb. 15).

Vaccination update

Four of the six mega sites were closed yesterday due to weather, and snow across the country affects New Jersey’s stock of vaccines.

“Planes and major hubs for both FedEx and UPS have been grounded due to the weather,” Murphy said. “This week’s delivery has not made it to us on time. We are working with all of our vaccinators for them to use existing inventory to satisfy their current appointments. However, we are keenly aware that not all sites have the inventory on hand to be able to do this, and this will result in many appointments needing to be rescheduled.”

Despite this challenge, the total number of shots administered grows ever closer to the 2 million mark. As of Friday morning, a total of 1,559,569 vaccinations have been administered to residents. This breaks down to 1,102,687 first doses and 456,045 second doses administered.

Additionally, Murphy gave an update on the status of the long-term care pharmacy vaccination program. Through the efforts of companies like CVS and Walgreens, 1,083 facilities have completed their first clinic, 873 have completed their second, and 167 facilities have completed their third.