With Growing Coronavirus Concerns, Legislation Allows Virtual or Remote Instruction to Count Towards 180-Day School Requirement During Certain Emergencies
TRENTON – Bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Gerry Cardinale (R-39), Senator Jim Beach (D-6) and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-21) would allow school districts to continue educating students remotely in emergency situations that require school facilities to be closed for more than three days.
“Given current concerns about the coronavirus and extended school closures that have occurred in other places around the world, it makes sense for New Jersey to update our plans to ensure that education can continue in the event of a disruption to the regular school schedule,” said Senator Cardinale (R-Bergen/Passaic). “Many of our schools have some level of ability to offer remote learning, which many utilize during the occasional snow day. What we don’t have, however, is a clear authorization for e-learning days to count towards the 180-day school requirement. It’s something we must address proactively before it becomes a necessity.”
Under current law, school districts must provide public school facilities for at least 180 days during the preceding school year from July 1 to June 30 to be eligible for State school aid.
While the law allows the Commissioner of Education to “remit the penalty” of withholding state aid for failing to meet the 180-day requirement “for good cause shown,” the State has strictly held that schools must provide in-school education for a school day to count, even when online learning tools are available.
The proposed legislation would allow one or more days of virtual or remote instruction to count towards the 180-day requirement in the event a school district is required to close schools for more than three school days due to an epidemic, weather, or other emergency condition. Those days also would count for the purposes of graduation requirements and the awarding of course credits.
Further, the measure requires the Commissioner of Education to set the standards for remote education, including for students who may not have access to a computer or the Internet. Additionally, the Commissioner would be required to provide guidance to districts on meeting the needs of students who depend on school lunch and breakfast programs.
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” said Senator Beach (D-Burlington/Essex). “While there is only one confirmed case of the coronavirus, I am glad the Legislature is already preparing for the possibility of New Jersey closing schools for an extended period of time. If that happens, this bill gives the school system the flexibility to continue their education remotely and ensures our youth will have the ability to meet the school-day requirements for the 2019-2020 school year.”
Public health concerns related to the current outbreak of novel coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19, have led to weeks-long school closures in China, Hong Kong, Italy, and elsewhere as officials have tried to stem the spread of the highly contagious disease. Some schools in Washington State and New York have closed due to the emergence of the disease locally.
According to the New York Times, 300 million students worldwide are missing class due to school closures related to the coronavirus epidemic.
Kean sent a letter to New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet last week requesting guidance on the administration’s contingency plans should extended school closures become necessary in New Jersey.
“My greatest concern is that school districts might feel pressured to keep students in classrooms to meet the inflexible 180-day requirement in an emergent situation when it would be safer for them to remain home,” said Senator Kean (R-Union/Somerset/Morris). “If we have the ability to limit the risk to both our children and their teachers while continuing their education, that’s something that would be smart to do. While we’re beyond thankful that neither our schools nor our children have been impacted yet by the coronavirus, we must plan for the time when we may need to act.”
Click here to view a draft of the legislation.