According to a source who spoke to Advance Media,
New Jersey’s nearly 600 school districts will not be able to simply chose to go all-remote, the source said. Instead, the districts will need to show the state Department of Education the reasons why they can’t offer in-person classes and what they are doing to solve those problems.
“Districts are expected to continue to work with the DOE towards getting to the point where they can provide an in-person experience. Districts are expected to have to tell the department what hurdles to providing in-person education they are facing and a date they are working towards resolving those hurdles,” the source said. “The goal is still to have as much in-person learning as possible in the state.”
Here’s the problem: Districts that primarily serve low-income students who are disproportionately Black and brown can, just like all other NJ districts, say they can’t open because 1) It’s not safe; 2) Too few teachers are willing to show up; 3) They don’t have the necessary supplies like disinfectant and masks and plexi-glass dividers.
But these districts are also those that can’t equitably provide remote instruction. Example: Paterson, where 90% of its 25,000 students are Black or Latino and overwhelmingly low-income. According to Superintendent Eileen F. Shafer, the district placed an order for 13,845 chromebooks in June for delivery delivery in late July. But the chromebooks haven’t arrived due to a backlog (even after the district paid $3.4 million) and are not expected to be delivered until October.
This means that half of all Paterson students won’t have the technology they need to access remote instruction if the district wants to go all-remote. (Note: Paterson’s home instruction was dismal. See here for coverage.)
This is not Paterson’s fault. It’s the NJ Department of Education’s fault for first minimizing the number of our 1.4 million were without digital access — Lamont Repollet claimed it was 89,000 when it was really 230,000 –and failing to take a leadership role in closing the state’s digital divide.
So, where does this leave Paterson’s students and parents? Will the DOE say its schools must reopen because so many children will be unable to log on to Zoom sessions? Will New Jersey, already a tale of two school systems, one wealthy and high-achieving, the other poor and low-achieving, bifurcate itself again? Will wealthy districts with ample laptops and iPads and every household with internet be permitted to go all-remote? Will districts like Paterson be forced to reopen schools despite concerns about contagion from Covid-19? Will keeping students and staff safe be contingent on residential wealth?
More to come.