New Jersey schools can open remotely under a new Executive Order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy. Under Executive Order 175, school districts may start the year with in-person instruction provided that they certify that they can satisfy the state’s health and safety standards. Alternatively, school districts may also open with remote-only instruction if they have “legitimate and documented reasons why core health and safety standards cannot be met by Day 1.”

Executive Order 175

The latest executive order gives New Jersey school districts much-needed flexibility by relaxing the Department of Education’s (DOE) initial reopening guidance, which required that all districts provide some form of in-person instruction to start 2020-2021 school year.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our students and educators, and we must ensure that schools reopen their doors only when it is safe for them to do so,” Governor Murphy said in a press statement. “Since releasing our guidance on reopening, we have continued to have frequent discussions with stakeholders and educators across the state. Many districts have expressed that meeting critical health and safety criteria by the first day of school is proving to be a challenge. While we continue to believe that there is no substitute for being in the classroom, allowing districts to delay the implementation of in-person instruction will give them the time and flexibility they need to ensure buildings are ready and welcoming when they do open.”

Under EO 175, districts are required to certify to DOE that they can meet the health and safety protocols outlined in the Order, and further detailed state’s school reopening guidance, “The Road Back,” before resuming in-person instruction.  Private school districts will also be required to submit this certification.

Districts that can meet the health and safety protocols must open to students for in-person instruction in the fall. However, even if school buildings are open for in-person instruction on the first day of the 2020-2021 school year, districts must provide a remote learning option for parents or guardians who request it for their children.

School districts that determine that they can’t provide in-person instruction must submit documentation to the Department of Education that identifies:

  1. The school building(s) or grade level(s) within the district that will provide full-time remote instruction;
  2. The specific health and safety standard(s) that the school is unable to satisfy;
  3. The school’s anticipated efforts to satisfy the identified health and safety standard(s); and
  4. A date by which the school anticipates the resumption of in-person instruction.

The required documentation must be submitted at minimum one week prior to the public school district’s first day of school.

EO 175 also mandates that all schools required to participate in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program and those that voluntarily opt-in to those programs must offer required meals to all children on remote-learning days.

NJDOH New Public Health Recommendations

On August 13, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) issued new health recommendations for local health departments for K-12 schools. As set forth in the new guidance, NJDOH will be providing information on COVID-19 transmission at the regional level, characterizing risk as low (green), moderate (yellow), high (orange), and very high (red). This information will be posted online on the Department’s website

The COVID-19 Regional Risk Matrix provides public health recommendations regarding the type of instruction (in-person, hybrid, remote), response to ill staff or students, exclusion criteria, and activities that involve interaction with multiple cohorts. When regions are in the very high-risk category (red), it is recommended that they implement fully remote learning.

Whenever schools are open for in-person learning, NJDOH recommends the following:

  • Require staff and students to stay home when sick or if they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days. Parents/guardians, students and staff should notify school administrators of illness.
  • Have a policy for daily symptom screening for students and staff; have plans for students and staff to report symptoms that develop during the day.
  • In conjunction with local health department, identify COVID-19 rapid testing resources (viral testing) for when staff and students develop COVID-19 compatible symptoms.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily.
  • Ensure adequate hand hygiene supplies are readily available.
  • Implement physical distancing measures (e.g., reducing occupancy, staggered schedules, use of alternate spaces, installation of partitions/physical barriers, cancelling large gatherings/events, and maintaining defined cohorts).
  • Implement source control through wearing face coverings.

Key Takeaways for NJ School Districts

New Jersey school districts continue to be under significant pressure to meet changing requirements for reopens for the new school year. While the latest guidance allows schools to start the year remotely or in-person, districts must certify their ability or inability to comply with the state’s health and safety protocols, which raises additional compliance concerns. Therefore, we encourage local districts to continue to consult with legal counsel regarding the reopening process.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Nathanya Simon, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.