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NJSBA releases special report on reopening schools

The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) has released a special report exploring issues involved in the reopening of schools following the closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report was released on May 20 by the association which is a federation of the state’s local boards of education and includes the majority of New Jersey’s charter schools as associate members.

NJSBA provides training, advocacy and support to advance public education and promotes the achievement of all students through effective governance, according to a press release.

“In the two months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of our public schools, New Jersey’s education community has made a valiant effort to transition our students to digital learning,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “Now, as we look toward the reopening of schools, the education community faces even greater challenges.”

“Searching for a ‘New Normal’ in New Jersey’s Public Schools: How the Coronavirus Is Changing Education in the Garden State” provides information about the safe reopening of schools, students’ mental health, academic and extracurricular programs, budgetary issues, and preparations for the future, according to the press release.

NJSBA announced plans to develop the special report on April 16.

“The report draws on the viewpoints of New Jersey’s local school officials, research by experts in education, medicine and public health, and the experience of other nations in reopening schools,” Feinsod said. “It is designed to help school districts further define challenges in these areas and develop strategies to meet them.”

The report recommends 10 strategies for local school districts and the state and federal governments, including the following:

• Provide school districts with accurate financial data reflecting the impact of the pandemic on New Jersey’s economy, state aid to education and school budgets;

• Engage in early, sustained communication with parents, students and school district staff about the steps being taken to ensure a healthy and safe environment;

• Revise plans to ensure a smooth transition to full online instruction if schools are again closed due to health and safety considerations;

• Include a “menu of options” in any statewide plan for the reopening of schools so school district administrators can select the strategies that would work best for their communities;

• Provide an adequate pool of educators by enabling teacher candidates to complete training, such as classroom observations, which was disrupted due to the health emergency.

Other recommendations address strategies to meet the mental health and emotional needs of students and staff; policy regarding the use of personal protective equipment; modification of the state’s school district evaluation system – the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum – so districts are not penalized for actions necessary to address the pandemic; administration of tests to identify the need for remediation; and adequate funding to provide such programs, according to the press release.

“As the New Jersey Department of Education begins charting a course to reopen schools, NJSBA’s special report will provide the critical perspective of local boards of education and school district leaders,” Feinsod said. “We look forward to contributing to this important undertaking.”

The special report can be accessed at www.njsba.org/new-normal2020

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