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Protecting the Health and Safety of New Jersey's Children and the Adults Who Teach Them In Light of the Continuing COVID-19 Pandemic

School Kids

Access a downloadable version of the OC/OS statement here.

Our Children/Our Schools is a statewide network of education, children’s rights and civil rights organizations. OC/OS members work together to support a vision of public education that is child-centered and that provides all students with excellent and equitable opportunities to learn.

 

Introduction

  • Our Children/Our Schools acknowledges the Murphy Administration, the Department of Education, the Department of Health, the educational professional associations, and the many teachers and families who have contributed to the discussion about reopening New Jersey’s schools, including the emphasis on protecting health and safety.

  • We acknowledge the time and effort the Administration, the Department of Education, and local school districts have dedicated to developing reopening plans.

  • We are not scientists, healthcare professionals, or education professionals, and our goal is not to criticize these plans, but rather to highlight the need to focus most intently on meeting the needs of our most vulnerable children and families.

  • We support efforts to ensure that all NJ children, and the adults serving them in our public schools, remain healthy and safe, and that the State and districts maintain a laser-like focus on protecting the most vulnerable students and families, whether schools are open, partially open using hybrid options, or continuing with virtual education.

Protect the Most Vulnerable Children

  • Our Children/Our Schools believes the State must continue to explicitly commit to protecting the most vulnerable students and families by providing them with needed educational and social services.

  • Vulnerable students are those who are least able to take advantage of online learning, and who are most at risk of falling behind their peers.

  • They include students who are:

o From low-income families (eligible for free or reduced-price meals);

o English Language Learners;

o Special education students;

o Children who may be living in unsafe or disruptive living situations, including living situations where internet access might not be reliable.

In the Current Public Health Crisis, Prioritize Social and Emotional Learning

  • Recognize the toll that COVID-19 has taken on families and on teachers and staff; prioritize the physical and mental health of students and those who educate them.

Ensure Universal Availability of On-Line Learning

 

1. Close the Digital Divide:

  • Urgently speed up the Murphy Administration’s efforts in this regard, including quickly moving forward with the NJEDA’s Bridging the Digital Divide Request for Information process.

  • The State must engage in bulk purchasing and distribution of hardware and assist with identification and temporary refurbishing of existing, unused hardware, including from private concerns.

2. Treat Broadband as a Universal Service, Like Other Utilities:

  • School closures this spring highlighted the critical need for universal access to broadband services in order to ensure all students can participate in virtual learning.

  • Low-income students, especially students of color and those in immigrant families, face disproportionate barriers in accessing high-speed broadband connectivity that would allow them to take full advantage of online learning.

  • Pass and sign Assembly bill A3649, which directs the NJ Office of Information Technology to create a statewide wireless network with two tiers of access, the first level being free.

Ensure All Children Are Safe

  • Students with disabilities, English language learners, students from low-income families, and students in unsafe or insecure home environments cannot be abandoned in this moment. The State must allocate resources to provide districts with the funding to effectively meet the needs of these students during this unprecedented time.

  • All students must be safe, so families in which adults must return to work but students are not allowed to return to in-person instruction need options for placement of these students in safe, supervised locations. The same is true for students who are not able to access virtual education from home.

  • Locations should be identified in district or community facilities that can provide services, supervision, and safe spaces. Options might include: socially distanced facilities at schools, daycare centers, public libraries, community colleges, and universities, with student supervision by teachers, childcare center staff, AmeriCorps volunteers, graduate and undergraduate student interns and others.

  • These centers should be provided with Wi-Fi hot spots for enhanced connectivity, perhaps in partnership with internet providers.

  • CARES funds could be used by the State to more efficiently buy and distribute low-cost masks, shields, sanitizer, and other required PPE that would allow these centers to protect students and staff. The State could provide technical assistance to make sure facilities are upgraded, including HVAC or other building systems.

Prioritize the Most Vulnerable Students When It is Safe to Reopen Schools

  • When school buildings can reopen safely with social distancing and adequate ventilation, among other requirements, districts must prioritize vulnerable students; whenever possible, districts should allow students who require and would benefit the most from in-person support to return first.

  • Families of these students should continue to have the option of virtual learning for as long as all families do.

  • A model to consider is the phased approach utilized in much of Australia, where priority for in-person education was given to children of essential workers, students with disabilities for delivery of services where appropriate, and students who faced risks if learning from home.

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