(TRENTON) – Over a year since New Jersey schools transitioned to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains a struggle for many working families to balance the challenges of overseeing their children’s education at home and fulfilling work obligations.
With the goal to ease this burden in communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday approved legislation (A-4789) to allow eligible school districts to create “safe havens” where students can complete their remote schoolwork while practicing social distancing and other public health measures.
Under the Safe and Equitable Remote Learning Pilot Program, school districts in Camden, Newark, Passaic, Paterson and Trenton would be permitted to create safe havens available to students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the State school lunch program.
The spaces would be located in buildings owned by the federal government, the State, a political subdivision of the State, or a nonprofit organization, and staffed by licensed school personnel who have undergone a criminal history record check and are approved by the board of education. The sites would have access to the Internet and other resources students need for remote learning.
The bill’s sponsors, Assembly Democrats Bill Spearman (D-Camden, Gloucester), Gary Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic) and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon) released the following joint statement:
“Remote learning hasn’t been easy for any family, but the toll has been exceptionally difficult for working parents, many of whom are frontline workers. With children at home all day, every day, and access to childcare limited during a pandemic, parents and guardians have been stretched thin balancing the demands of work and their children’s remote learning.
“Many neighbors have joined together to create their own ‘learning pods,’ with some parents volunteering to watch friends’ children and help with their virtual schoolwork during the day while other parents attend to in-person or remote work. The safe havens established under this legislation would operate similarly to these learning pods, but with the capacity to accommodate more students and provide vital resources and trained staff.
“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve found innovative ways to combat challenges and stay connected. Safe havens are another solution that will help foster our students’ academic and social growth during these difficult times.”