No “Back to School” for Toms River Regional School District

TOMS RIVER, NJ – On September 8th, students of the Toms River Regional School District won’t be boarding school buses to go back to school, instead, they will continue their remote online learning program from their own homes.

In July, Superintendent of Schools Dave Healy gave a grim forecast about going back to school saying it would be financially and logistically impossible for students to return to the classroom in September. Healy blamed Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey state guidelines as the reason for his prediction.

This week, Healy told the community that the district will return to remote-learning lesson plans and at a future date, he will announce a plan for children to return to the classroom.

The action comes after Governor Phil Murphy said a return to in-person education will be subject to strict regulations and health safety protocols.

“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,” said Governor Murphy. “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.”

Healy and the school board’s decision to cancel in-school education comes just weeks after the district laid out plans for a return to school in mid-July.

The eventual return to school for students could be a hybrid solution that mixes at-home learning with limited time for students to attend class in their school buildings.

The board was nearly unanimous in blaming Governor Phil Murphy’s administration for ambiguous rules and guidelines and an ever-changing playing field for teachers and administrators to properly plan a return to school under the governor’s guidelines.

Here are the basic guidelines of the Governor’s 175th executive order of the year:

  • Districts are required to certify to DOE that they can meet the health and safety protocols outlined in the Order, and further detailed in 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 shall open to students for in-person instruction in the fall;
  • 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;
  • Districts unable to adequately meet health and safety reopening protocols must provide remote instruction to all students. These districts are required to submit documentation to DOE detailing which standard(s) the district is unable to satisfy, the anticipated efforts that will be taken to satisfy the standard(s), and a date by which the school anticipates resuming in-person instruction;
  • 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.

Many districts are saying the executive order which comes just three weeks before the return of school doesn’t allow school districts sufficient time to implement the new guidelines and certifications.

“The Department of Education has put forward strong guidelines that put a premium on health and safety of students and staff, while allowing in-person instruction to resume. However, we recognize that for some districts, there are legitimate and documentable reasons why some of these core health and safety standards cannot be met on day one,” Murphy said. ” So for these districts today, we are reaffirming our commitment to provide the flexibility for districts to do what is best for their school community. Both public and non-public schools must certify to the Department of Education that they are able to meet the health and safety standards necessary to resume in-person instruction. Districts that cannot meet all the health and safety standards for safe in-person instruction will begin their school year in an all-remote fashion. Public school districts will need to spell out their plans for satisfying these unmet standards, and a date by which they anticipate the ability to resume in-person instruction.”

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

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