Murphy Says He's ‘Comfortable' Sending His Children to School This Fall

Gov. Phil Murphy said he feels "comfortable" sending his two college-aged children to school, although he has "less visibility" on his high schooler.

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Although teachers are still ironing out schooling amid the pandemic this fall, Gov. Phil Murphy said he feels "comfortable" sending his two college-aged students to school, although he has "less visibility" on his high schooler.

"Based on what I know the answer is 'yes.' We know for sure what the plan looks like for our two in college. I have less visibility right now to our guy who is going to be a senior in high school but yeah I think in their specific cases, I think the institutions have handled themselves really well," he said Friday during his coronavirus press briefing.

Murphy went on to say that when it comes to schooling in the fall, the state must do "what's right for them to keep them healthy, to keep their mental health strong, to make sure they get the public education they deserve."

"The Department of Education with a heavy dose of [Judith Persichilli] and the Department of Health have put out the broad parameters of what we want districts to consider and just as when we closed each of the districts submitted a plan, under the theory that no two districts are alike. We are asking the same as we reopen. What it’s going to look like. The districts I believe have to submit that plan four weeks before whenever the go date is and also make that public," the governor said.

Murphy's comments comes on the day that he said the state is “largely in a holding pattern” when it comes to lifting additional coronavirus lockdown restrictions, including those for gyms, suggesting he doesn’t have immediate plans to let more indoor businesses and activities reopen.

Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), recently addressed the challenges surrounding opening schools this fall.

The president of the state's largest teachers union said state educators are still ironing out schooling amid the pandemic.

“Some reopening guidelines are not specific enough and leave too many questions unanswered in school districts, as parents and teachers decide if it’s safe to return to the classroom, especially when the guidelines continue to change,” Blistan said.

Murphy unveiled preliminary guidance late in June for reopening the state's schools in the fall, one that involves a hybrid approach of in-person and remote learning but must include the first, as well as COVID screenings.

"We have every expectation that our kids will return to their schools come September," Murphy previously said. "Today's guidance comes with one overarching requirement: that our public schools will open in some capacity with the health of students, their families, and educators being the top priority."

The governor admits there's no "one size" fits all approach to reopening schools. New Jersey's guidance was developed after surveying more than 300,000 parents and listening to key stakeholders, including 300 superintendents. (For full details, find the Department of Education's complete104-page report here.)

Under the state's plan, all faculty, staff, and visitors will be required to wear face coverings. Students will be encouraged to wear masks if social distancing is maintained and required to do so if it's not possible, including on buses. Murphy acknowledged that might not always be doable, especially in elementary school.

Class sizes should be limited where possible to better promote social distancing, Murphy says, and configured to that end as well, whether by moving desks or shifting late. Large school districts are allowed to rearrange student schedules. Murphy said the state expects each district to share its scheduling plans at least one month before the first day of school so families can plan ahead.

Districts must also adopt a policy for screening students and employees for COVID symptoms. Playgrounds are allowed, but the equipment must be sanitized after each period of student use. No determination has been made yet on organized athletics. Cafeterias can be open but the state suggests districts stagger meal time. Self-serve and buffet lines should be prohibited.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the virus, which is spiking to record numbers in many states across the country, Murphy said schools must be prepared for the possibility that they may have to transition to full remote learning at any point.

Murphy’s announcement came as the state’s COVID-19 case count was more than 176,550. At least 13,710 people have died from coronavirus-related complications with another nearly 2,000 deaths suspected to be from COVID-19.

Key hospital metrics were down Friday, Murphy said. But, the statewide positivity rate for tests was 1.66 percent -- down from 2.8 the previous day. The rate of transmission inched up to 1.11 percent from 1 percent the previous day.

"This means that each new positive case leads to one, or slightly more than one, positive cases," Murphy said, adding "we need to get it back down."

Murphy said key metrics will continue to drive the state's reopening plans amid the ongoing virus.

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