New Jersey education officials on Thursday released a new set of guidelines for schools reopening for in-classroom learning for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic closed them in March.
The 19-page document divides the districts into six regions, lays out hygiene requirements, social-distancing/face mask wearing procedures, and details closing procedures in the event of new outbreaks among students and teachers.
** ALSO SEE: Murphy Announces Remote Reopening Rules For NJ Schools **
If one or two teachers or students are diagnosed with COVID-19 in the same classroom, anyone they came in close contact with will be asked to stay home for 14 days. Students and staff are instructed to stay home if they have tested positive for the virus, are displaying symptoms and if they have been exposed to a potential case.
Schools could close for 14 days if two or more people from different classrooms test positive for the virus and have a clear connection, or are linked to a suspected/confirmed COVID-19 case that can't be easily identified, the guidelines say.
If there is only one confirmed case, the school will remain open but those who came in contact with the sick individual will be asked to stay home for 14 days.
All schools should have a separate isolation room or area for anyone who becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms while at school, the guidelines say. Daily reports of staff and student attendance and absence should be closely monitored, especially when someone is out with COVID-19 symptoms.
When a child or teacher becomes sick, areas immediately used by the person such as bathrooms, common areas and classrooms should be closed off, and windows should be opened to increase air circulation. Cleaning and disinfection should begin 24 hours later.
"Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas used by the ill person such as offices, classrooms, bathrooms, common areas, and shared electronic equipment (like tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls), focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces," the guidelines say. "Once an area has been appropriately disinfected, it can be opened for use."
The New Jersey Health Department will be providing information on COVID-19 transmission at the regional level, characterized by a color-coded system (green = low, yellow = moderate, orange = high, and red = very high). The information will be posted on the NJDOH website every week.
"Regional risk levels are just one tool that local health departments and schools can use when assessing COVID-19 risk," the guidelines say.
Single cases must be reported to local health departments, which should help identify outbreaks. An outbreak is defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14-day period.
Schools are required to reinforce the use of face coverings among staff and students. Hand-washing should be done at the following times:
- Upon arriving at school
- Before/after meals and snacks
- Before leaving for the day
- After blowing nose/sneezing/coughing into tissue
- When hands are visibly soiled
The guidelines also include color-coded tracking system to be used in each region. If the virus rate in a particular region is too high, all schools could be shut down.
"The more people a student or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher, the risk of COVID-19 spread," the guidelines say.
The guidelines call for small groups of classes, activities and events, with students keeping six feet of distance between each other at all times. Groups of the same students should stay together and are with the same teacher throughout the school day and not intermingle, and no students should share objects, such as pencils and erasers.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.