New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy urged more New Jersey schools to return to in-person learning on March 17, just days after rallying parents placed blame for lingering closures squarely at the Governor’s feet. “Now is the time for all of our schools to meaningfully move forward with a return to in-person instruction, whether it be full-time or with a hybrid schedule,” Governor Murphy said during his regular coronavirus briefing in Trenton. The Governor pointed to billions in federal funding headed to schools from the American Rescue Plan and said his administration is doing everything in its power “to get as many kids back safely and responsibly into a classroom.”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s comments come as the number of students with the opportunity to attend classes in person continues to grow. Governor Murphy reported 142 school districts, serving 107,498 kids, are now providing in-person instruction. Another 534 districts, representing 843,394 students, are operating under hybrid schedules. However, 317,044 students across 98 districts remain in all-remote instruction a full year after most schools initially closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Parent frustration in many of those communities has long since boiled over, leading to parent rallies, legal battles, and even a police investigation into the suggestion of “physical violence” against those keeping schools closed.
On March 13, about 100 parents from across the state gathered in Montclair to demand action, not just from local school leaders but Governor Phil Murphy himself. “Aside from our (superintendents) and our board of ed, the person that I blame ultimately for this is Governor Murphy,” said rally organizer Danielle Wildstein, a parent in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood School District. She added: “It has come down to (Murphy), who gave the responsibility to the superintendents back in August, gave them a very gray blueprint and then stepped aside… It’s really about him stepping up now.”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy initially announced last June that all schools would be required to offer in-person instruction this academic year. However, he amended that mandate in August, citing increasing health concerns and logistical challenges brought forward by schools. Murphy said districts could begin the year with all-remote instruction as long as they provided the state Department of Education with documented challenges, such as poor ventilation or a lack of protective equipment, and were working toward set reopening dates. Those dates, however, have been routinely pushed back, including at least one district that said in January it does not plan to open at all this school year. “We know there are students across our state who have fallen behind due to the burden and stress of remote learning, and it is time to stem this tide before more students fall away,” Murphy said on March 17.
According to the state’s dashboard, New Jersey has reported 188 in-school Coronavirus outbreaks, which have resulted in 890 cases among students, teachers, and school staff this academic year. The outbreak numbers only include cases in which contact tracers concluded people likely gave each other the virus on school grounds. The numbers do not include those who caught the virus during school sports practices, games, or extracurricular activities inside or outside school.