N.J. Schools to Shut for Rest of Academic Year, Murphy Says

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(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey schools will remain closed through the academic year’s end in June, forcing about 1.4 million kindergarten-through-12th-grade public schoolers and their privately educated peers to continue electronic classes.

“The reality is that we cannot safely reopen our schools to provide students and families, or faculties and staff, the confidence needed” to return, Governor Phil Murphy said Monday at his virus press briefing. The logistical hurdles “could not be overcome,” he said.

The state has the nation’s second-highest number of cases, behind New York. Though New Jersey has shown a flattening trend -- the goal of social-distancing orders put into place on March 21 -- a 14-day decline is necessary before the state reopens non-essential businesses, workplaces and government services, Murphy has said.

Ventilator use is lowest in more than a month, and the number of patients in critical or intensive care has decreased for six straight days.

New cases and deaths reported are likely low because of a network outage on May 3, the Governor said. He reported 1,621 new cases, for a total of 128,269, and 45 new fatalities, for a total of 7,910.

New Jersey has 1.37 million public elementary and high school students and about 116,000 full-time teachers, plus support staff, according the the state education department. About 152,000 students are privately educated.

“There is a lot to consider” yet about reopening for the 2020-2021 academic year, Murphy said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on May 1 said K-12 schools, plus colleges, wouldn’t return for the year’s remainder, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf made the same decision in early April. Murphy in March ordered distance learning through at least May 15.

As a result of the state shutdown, New Jersey’s $1.28 billion surplus is “no longer realistic,” Murphy said on Monday. The governor has said building the surplus was key to restoring New Jersey’s financial health. In late March, though, Murphy froze $920.6 million in spending, including aid to homeowners and cities, and warned of deep hits to the nation’s least-funded public pension system.

The state will continue to push for direct federal assistance and will pursue “short-term borrowing” as a budget bridge, the governor said.

While non-essential businesses remained closed and more than 900,000 New Jerseyans -- 10% of the state population -- have filed for unemployment in recent weeks, Murphy is taking small steps toward normalcy. On May 1, he reopened state parks, which had been closed since April 7 as visitors congregated.

“We heard very few reports of knucklehead behavior” in parks over the weekend, said Murphy, using his favored term for those who disregard distancing rules.

In coming weeks, he said, his administration will issue guidance to towns along New Jersey’s 130 miles (209 kilometers) of beach-studded coastline, crucial to tourism. Many municipalities have blocked access to sand and oceanside boardwalks, and Murphy said he may suggest that towns do as the parks did, and restrict the number of visitors.

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