BLOG: New Jersey’s Efforts as it Adjusts to a New Paradigm of Education

Nina Peckman, Staff Attorney

Nina Peckman, Staff Attorney

It’s been several weeks now since Governor Murphy mandated all schools to close and a reopen date is still not in near sight. This pandemic is testing the state’s capacity to fulfill its obligation to educate 1.4 million New Jersey children outside the schools’ brick and mortar. To learn how the state is responding in light of COVID-19, NJ Spotlight held a roundtable discussion on April 7th with the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE), Lamont Repollet, Ed.D., Assistant Commissioner for Field Services AbdulSaleem Hasan and Assistant Commissioner for Academics and Performance Linda Nosan.

New Jersey DOE officials engaged in an open conversation on current plans to ensure that all of New Jersey’s school children continue to receive an education. The department’s top concerns included food security, ensuring equity and meeting the special needs of students while establishing a system of remote learning that would provide flexibility in complying with education regulations.

Commissioner Repollet began by applauding efforts by school staff throughout New Jersey to address the needs of students, including setting up remote learning, finding iPads and Chromebooks and distributing school meals to those in need. He praised the efforts of teachers, staff and administrators that had to quickly learn how to teach and provide necessary supports entirely through remote services while often struggling to help their own children.

As the Department embarked on remote learning, they leaned on existing home instruction guidelines and guidance by the Attorney General to determine how students will be assessed for grade promotion, credit recovery and graduation. The Commissioner assured that children who should and can graduate high school this year will do so. Governor Phil Murphy aided this effort by cancelling all statewide student assessments for the spring 2020. This includes the administration of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments (NJSLA), ACCESS for ELLs, and the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) assessment. Further, he reduced the undue burden for seniors to graduate by issuing Executive Order No. 117, waiving the graduation assessment requirement for twelfth graders expecting to graduate this school year. DOE is committed to working with districts to address the credit recovery and graduation requirements.

Commissioner Repollet recognized the efforts needed to address the needs of students with disabilities, students who have limited English proficiency and students who struggle academically and/or who have behavior challenges. School districts have developed flexible plans to provide instruction and to help ensure that children receive education services.He confirmed that recent guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education, state DOE emergency regulations and a bill signed into law by Governor Murphy on teletherapies will allow for students to receive supports at home as needed through telephone/video/email contacts with teachers, guidance counselors, child study team staff and other support staff to help children get promoted this year to the next grade.

As they work to adjust to this new paradigm of providing instruction, DOE recognized the difficulty of providing all the resources that children need to learn in their homes. There are families that still do not have a Chromebook or laptop for each child and some do not have stable internet service or any internet service at home. But Federal and state regulations states that children who do not progress, who regress or who have gaps in their education services due to the school closures have the right to a determination regarding whether they need compensatory education services to make up for loss of education.

Parents play an important role in ensuring their child continues to receive an education. Parents whose children are not able to access classes or school work or whose children are not being contacted by school staff as needed, should contact school staff. If they do not receive a response, they should contact their county education offices for assistance. If there is no internet access in the home, the school should be contacted to determine the best way to communicate with staff (ex. Text/phone call/ mail). Some schools have developed apps for cellphones to enable communication.  Parents can also contact Nina Peckman at ACNJ for advocacy assistance via email to npeckman@acnj.org or via telephone at (973) 643-3876, ext. 226.

Visit the New Jersey Department of Education for guidance and resources during COVID-19.

Parents, having a hard time with this distance learning? Trying to replicate the school setting at home? Well you don't have too. What a relief!  According to this blogger, parents have a unique role that can help facilitate learning for kids without having to take on the role of "teacher". Check out these educational resources which include some interactive activities that are fun too!

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