Should any New Jersey school district be forced to close its doors for several days due to the spread of novel coronavirus, online learning and other "home instruction" would count toward the state's requirement that schools be open at least 180 days per year to get state aid.

Updated guidance from the state Department of Education, released to school administrators late Thursday, said this exemption would only occur when closures are the result of a written directive by the state health department or a local health officer.

"All boards of education should develop a health-related closure preparedness plan to provide home instruction in the event of such a closure," the updated guidance reads. "The planned services should include equitable access to instruction for all students."

The guidance instructs districts to submit preparedness plans to the Executive County Superintendent, and encourages boards of education to adopt enhance protocols for school cleanliness and disinfection.

With growing concerns over a COVID-19 outbreak, along with the Garden State's first two presumptive positive cases of the virus, state legislators and school representatives had been pushing for clearer rules from the state. Prior to this guidance, online learning would have not counted towards the 180-day rule unless teachers were present in schools.

"I think the guidance is a great help to districts and recognizes that we all must work hand in hand with state and local health organizations," said Elisabeth Gisburg, executive director of

The updated rules apply strictly to public health-related closures — the same exception wouldn't be made to accommodate closures due to inclement weather, for example. The state does allow home/online instruction for certain students dealing with temporary or chronic health conditions.

 

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.