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These are the schools that hope to start remotely. But will NJ give them the OK?

The Record, Bergen County logo The Record, Bergen County 8/14/2020 Alexis Shanes, NorthJersey.com
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Only a few New Jersey public school districts indicated they would start the fall semester remotely a day after Gov. Phil Murphy backtracked on a mandate that called for districts to include in-person instruction in their reopening plans.

Murphy on Wednesday offered the state’s nearly 600 school districts the option to start the semester virtually if they cannot meet core state health and safety requirements.

Most schools prepared hybrid models for the fall semester, and many were expected to keep those plans even after Murphy’s announcement.

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Among the districts so far that said they will operate fully remotely are Paterson, Passaic, Teaneck, Montclair, Bayonne, Perth Amboy, Elizabeth, Plainfield, New Brunswick and Jersey City. In Burlington County, Willingboro schools will start the semester with distance learning only because of ventilation problems and PPE shortages.

a group of baseball players standing on top of a grass covered field: Passaic Valley Regional High School held a socially distant graduation ceremony over the course of two days in Little Falls, NJ. Graduates walk in a procession on the second day of the ceremonies on Wednesday July 15, 2020. © Anne-Marie Caruso/NorthJersey.com - USA TODAY NETWORK Passaic Valley Regional High School held a socially distant graduation ceremony over the course of two days in Little Falls, NJ. Graduates walk in a procession on the second day of the ceremonies on Wednesday July 15, 2020.

Few of the school districts appeared to make the remote-only call out of concern for meeting the state’s health and safety guidelines. Passaic was set to approve a distance learning plan and Paterson and Teaneck adjusted their formerly hybrid approaches just hours after Murphy’s announcement.

“The board’s decision was not based on a flaw in the district’s restart plan,” said Paul Brubaker, a spokesperson for the Paterson School District. “The plan is in full compliance with the directives issued by the governor and the state education commissioner, including all health and safety guidelines they provided.”

Rather, he said, the decision to do distance learning was based on a statewide reduction on indoor gathering limits and recent fluctuation in the state’s rate of virus transmission. 

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Teaneck school officials, meanwhile, approved the all-virtual environment as "an ever-growing number of concerned parents and staff" said they did not feel that an in-person return was safe.

"We happened to have a special board of education meeting scheduled for last night, and after seeing the governor's announcement earlier in the day, this was part of our discussion," said Terry Corallo, Teaneck Board of Education chief of staff.

Passaic is prepared to move into hybrid instruction if the school board decides such a model is appropriate based on health and safety conditions. The district has roughly 15,000 students. 

"Our priority is the health and safety of our school community," Passaic Board of Education President Christina Schratz told NorthJersey.com before Murphy's announcement. "The challenge is to balance educational excellence with public health during a pandemic."

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In both Passaic and Paterson, school buildings will remain closed through October. The Paterson School Board said it would review its decision Oct. 15 and decide when buildings will reopen. Passaic said it would decide by Oct. 31 whether to give parents a choice between hybrid and online-only instruction.

Paterson still faces challenges with online-only instruction. The district has a distance learning technology shortage affecting 4,000 students, down from 10,000 a few days earlier, as it awaits delivery of thousands of Chromebooks ordered at the beginning of June. The delay is due to human rights allegations against one of the manufacturer’s suppliers.

In Perth Amboy, Superintendent David Roman said the district would reverse course following Murphy's announcement. The district now plans to submit an amendment to its original hybrid reopening plan requesting to conduct instruction remotely until at least Nov. 18.

"We will ensure that staff and students robustly engage in virtual learning during this period of remote instruction," Roman wrote in a letter to the district. "Specific guidelines for staff and students will be delineated and shared with the entire school community as soon as possible." 

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Districts’ reopening plans are subject to approval by the state education department's county superintendents. Those authorities review the plans to ensure they meet the most basic state health and safety requirements. If a plan has gaps, the county superintendent reaches out to the districts.

There is no established deadline for plan review, and county offices are still receiving plans, Michael Yaple, an education department spokesperson, said in an email.

The education department had received 422 plans as of last Friday, Yaple said. Those plans cover 584 operating districts, 92 charter and renaissance schools and more than 80 approved private schools for students with disabilities.

The state has not tracked the number returned to districts for revisions and has not kept a list of those requesting to open with remote-only instruction, Yaple said.

Matt Fagan and Joe Malinconico contributed reporting.

Alexis Shanes is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: shanesa@northjersey.com Twitter: @alexisjshanes 

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: These are the schools that hope to start remotely. But will NJ give them the OK?

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