NJ says students don't have to go back to school if they don't want to

Officials in New Jersey provided more details Friday on the reopening of schools this fall, including that parents will be allowed to opt-out their children from in-person learning without having to demonstrate a risk of illness or other special circumstances.

The amended guidelines represent a shift from guidance released four weeks ago by Gov. Phil Murphy that required in-person instruction, though school districts were given latitude to decide the number of days students would be required to report in person, and whether they could also use online learning.

“All students are eligible for fulltime remote learning; eligibility cannot be conditioned on a family/guardian demonstrating a risk of illness or other selective criteria,” the guidance released Friday stated.

WARREN, NJ - MAY 04: A general view of the front of an empty Watchung Hills Regional High School during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on May 4, 2020 in Warren, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

School districts must have clearly communicated policies on remote learning and procedures for students to transition back to in-person learning when they are ready, interim Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer said Friday.

Murphy said a key factor in the shift was the state's recently announced program that will target more than $50 million in COVID-19 relief money and private funding toward providing students with internet access and hardware. The state has estimated that as many as 230,000 students were hampered by a lack of access to technology during remote learning this past spring.

“Not everyone has space in their house, high-speed internet or the ability to go out and hire a tutor,” Murphy said. "Our plans have to encompass those objectives. Equity has to be at the center of all this.”

Guidelines released last month require schools to adopt a screening policy for students and staff, seek to maintain social distancing and require staff and visitors to wear masks. Students will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks.

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