1 year after schools closed, Murphy calls for more in-person instruction

Governor: ‘Now is the time’ to get back in classroom

File photo Gov. Phil Murphy at a COVID-19 briefing.

A year ago Thursday, New Jersey school districts closed their doors and frantically switched to a remote-learning model while the COVID-19 pandemic took over the state.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who has largely left the decision of how schools should operate to the districts, said Wednesday that he wants kids back in the classroom.

“Now is the time for all of our schools to meaningfully move forward with a return to in-person instruction,” he said. “It is time for more students to be active presences in our schools, and not on black boxes on a Zoom screen.”

The $1.9 trillion stimulus will provide New Jersey nearly $2.8 billion to assist schools in their reopening plans and to help combat learning loss.

Currently, school districts in New Jersey seem to be heading in the direction. There are 142 school districts that are currently open for all in-person learning and 534 schools open for some sort of hybrid of in-person and remote. That totals out to 950,892 students who are having some sort of in-person learning in their schedules, Murphy said.

“We know there are students across our state who have fallen behind due to the burden and stress of remote learning,” Murphy said. “It is time to stem this tide before more students fall away. A full year out of the classroom is not how students move forward, or how our world-class educators move forward.”

Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, the acting commissioner of the Department of Education, said she is hopeful moving forward.

“The safe return to in-person instruction is among our foremost priorities,” she said. “We will be engaging in stakeholder discussions over the next six weeks, resulting in clear, concise guidance to support ongoing school openings and looking ahead to the 2021-22 school year.”

Murphy said he is optimistic that students will be back in the classrooms next fall.

“It is our complete expectation that every school will be open, and every student and educator will be safely in their classrooms for full-time, in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 academic year,” he said.

Other notes from Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing:

Health metrics

As of Wednesday morning, New Jersey is reporting 3,590 new cases confirmed via PCR testing and 1,017 new cases confirmed via antigen tests. In total, there have been 751,082 cases via PCR testing and 97,794 via antigen testing.

In hospitals around the state Tuesday, 246 COVID patients were discharged, while 265 others were newly admitted. There were 21 deaths in the hospitals Tuesday, but they are not yet lab-confirmed to be from COVID-related complications.

The state is also reporting 38 new deaths that have been lab-confirmed to be from COVID-19. In total in the past year, 21,530 New Jerseyans lost their lives to COVID-19, while 2,515 deaths are classified as probable.

Other hospital numbers:

  • In hospital: 1,895 (1,782 confirmed, 113 awaiting confirmation);
  • In ICU: 407;
  • On ventilators: 231;
  • Rate of transmission: 05;
  • Positivity rate: 87% (from March 13).

Vaccination update

Murphy said 3,143,096 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have now been administered throughout the state. Additionally, 1.1 million New Jerseyans are currently fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We are well on our way to meeting our goal,” Murphy said. “Our initial goal was to get 70% of our adult population vaccinated. That’s 4.7 million people. If you count the numbers of the initial Pfizer and Moderna doses, along with the number of Johnson & Johnson doses administered, we’re at roughly 45% of our target having received at least a first shot.”

The state is also recommitting to its vaccination efforts for elderly citizens and child care workers. Murphy announced that CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid are reserving vaccine appointments for, and prioritizing, educators and child care workers. Additionally, Walmart will be setting aside a minimum of 10,000 doses per week for senior citizens above the age of 65.

“Vaccinations are available to all eligible individuals who live, work or study in New Jersey,” Murphy said. “More importantly, your immigration status will not be a barrier to your being vaccinated. Defeating this virus means reaching deep into every community and ensuring both equitable access and equitable distribution.”

Final word

Murphy on Assemblyman Jay Webber’s (R-Parsippany) proposed bills aimed at getting more funding to schools that remained open to in-person instruction:

“I’m not going to comment on specific legislation, but I will tell you … we’re doing everything in our power to get as many kids back safely and responsibly into a classroom. We’ve been doing that from Day One, and I promise you we will continue to do it.”