Blog: New Jersey School Reopening Plan Leaves Unanswered Questions, Helping Parents Voice Their Concerns

Posted on July 14, 2020

Nina Peckman, Staff Attorney
Nina Peckman, Staff Attorney

On June 26, the New Jersey Department of Education published it’s re-opening plan with the approval of Governor Murphy, The Road Back, Restart and Recovery Plan for Education (“NJDOE Plan”). The document with more than 100 pages was developed with the input of over 80 entities including state agencies, school districts and organizations.  It covers every significant aspect of school district operations, provides detailed guidance regarding the education services for general education students and COVID-19 minimum health and safety standards to keep students, staff and parents safe.

However, the NJDOE Plan raises many questions and concerns for all parents, but even more so for parents of students with disabilities and other special populations such as ELL students, homeless, low-income and at-risk students.  How will the needs of students with IEPs/ 504 Plans or those eligible for disability services be met in the 2020-2021 school year?  What is a districts’ obligation to a student with a disability who has demonstrated that the remote model is not effective also remains unclear.

What is clear in the Plan is that parents should play a role in shaping their district’s reopening plan.

Districts have been asked to try to complete and share a reopening plan at least four weeks prior to the start of school with the directive to include stakeholder’s input in the development process.  The district must appoint a “Restart Committee” made up of school administrators, board members, local education associations, content experts, parents, students, and educators.

Districts should engage families in developing the reopening plan by: surveying parents, involving parents on district level planning teams, communicating plans using multiple platforms and languages, and conducting virtual town hall meetings and home visits.  Parents especially those of students with special needs have an opportunity to address some of the questions that remain unanswered.

Parents can ensure they are included in the reopening planning by:

  • contacting the district’s Board of Education to ask how they will engage a diverse group of parents that represent the interests and needs of all the district’s special student groups;
  • asking the superintendent/board president how to be part of the Restart Committee;
  • asking if the district will survey parents and how it will ensure all families complete a parent survey before a reopening plan is finalized;
  • asking whether and where parent survey results will be posted and how results will be used; and
  • requesting details about any virtual town hall meetings.

View this fact sheet with some issues to consider and recommendations for how a parent/guardian can try to influence their district’s reopening plan, particularly parents of children with disabilities and academic challenges.

Parents, don't miss the opportunity to have your voice heard. Be the best advocate for your child by providing your input as the reopening plans are being developed.