New Jersey students will not return to classrooms this school year, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday, putting the state in line with the rest of the region in keeping school buildings closed during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We reached this conclusion based on the guidance from our public health department and with a single goal in mind: the safety and well-being of our children, our educators, our administrators and staff," Murphy said at a news conference.
While remote instruction continues, all K-12 school buildings are closed through June 30. Private schools with terms that extend into the summer will remain closed at least through that date, Murphy said. Spring sports have also been canceled.
The governor had previously closed schools through May 15, saying he wanted to leave open the possibility of a return to in-person classes.
But nonessential businesses in the state remain closed. “If the standards to reopen our workplaces are high, they are even higher when it comes to schools filled with our most precious resource — our children," Murphy said.
The news relieved parents like Brooke Truong of Collingswood. "This is far from over, and I don’t think that we really have the time to prepare ourselves to get the kids back to school right now,” said Truong, the mother of a kindergartner. “But it was also heartbreaking, because there’s so many milestones that each grade is missing out on.”
In Cherry Hill, Superintendent Joseph Meloche told parents in a message: “We know this is a loss for many.” The district will "make sure that our graduates are properly honored,” he said.
Matt Moskovitz, a senior at Haddonfield Memorial High School, was prepared for the news, but it still stung.
“I’ve gotten into college, I’m planning for adulthood, and now I have a global pandemic going on throughout the whole thing,” said Moskovitz, 17, who will attend Drexel University. He said it was harder to motivate himself to do remote learning: “I miss the structure of school.”
Murphy’s announcement was supported by educational organizations, which cited health and safety concerns as well as the logistical challenges of reopening this spring.
Still, “we know this is an educational loss for students,” said Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “The very best remote education is no substitute for the in-person instruction and peer interaction that helps our students learn and thrive."
It’s also been a challenge for parents facing the new burden of overseeing their children’s education — including in Pemberton Township, where the school district has eased up on some assignments in response to parent feedback, said Superintendent Tony Trongone.
He said he’s looking ahead to other challenges, including whether buildings will be able to open for summer programs and how to plan for the fall without knowing what budget numbers will look like.
Murphy said it’s unclear whether in-person summer school will be possible or whether schools can open on time in the fall. “There is a lot to consider about how the school day will differ once our students and faculty return,” he said.
As for graduations, Murphy, the father of a New Jersey high schooler, said officials will work “on safe and creative ways to give the Class of 2020 a proper sendoff to their bright futures.”
Cinnaminson High senior Michael Ianuzzi had been looking forward to spring events like prom and graduation.
“It sucks,” Ianuzzi said. Still, he’s hoping some activities can occur in the summer, and focusing on what’s next — Rowan College at Burlington County, in whatever form the fall semester might take.
Beth Glennon, a math teacher at Moorestown High School, surveyed her senior students Monday: How are you feeling? Are you OK?
“I’m most sad not getting the closure we deserved …,” one student wrote.
“Beyond the milestones, it’s heartbreaking to know that we won’t even see each other without having the risk of getting sick,” another replied.
Still, students agreed with Glennon: The decision was the right one.
“I’m 51 years old, I am the mother of four children." she said. "I would be afraid to go back to the germ factory.”