TRENTON — As schools scramble to reopen safely or reverse those plans in favor of an all-virtual option, the student representative to the state Board of Education wants them to keep in mind the social and emotional needs of students who may not have seen their peers in nearly six months.

Sabrina Capoli, an incoming senior at Seneca High School in Tabernacle, said some things being lost by students can’t be made up – such as proms, musicals, athletic seasons and graduations.

“This will be hard to recover from in the coming school year,” Capoli told the board at its Wednesday meeting. “It is difficult to look at this year with an open mind or heart for that matter.”

Capoli said a survey she conducted that reached most counties in New Jersey found 79% of students reacted negatively to their online learning experience.

“Of that 79%, 91% of those blamed their poor experience on lack of socialization,” she said.

Capoli said students surveyed had some suggestions for administrators at reopening schools, such as academic breaks to reduce stress and mask breaks.

“Implementing a designated time when students can be outside without a mask may reduce the chance of those students removing it during the school day while promoting responsible decision making,” Capoli said.

She said schools can post song lyrics on the bathroom walls that take 30 seconds to sing, to help students wash their hands effectively.

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Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer declined to share data with the state board about the number of reopening plans that have been approved or the number of schools opting for all-virtual openings, saying the numbers change so often that any he provided would already be out-of-date.

Dehmer indicated that counts of the number of COVID-positive cases in New Jersey schools will be released regularly by the state Department of Health, not the NJDOE, as part of the updates of the ‘regional risk matrix’ that groups the 21 counties into six regions.

“I believe that the Department of Health will be putting out that information with some regularity. I’m not exactly – I think it’s every week, by the region, as they get updated data,” Dehmer said.

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State Board of Education President Kathy Goldenberg said the public will be looking for those types of details.

“I know everybody’s nervous about what’s happening, and I’m sure that more information is better than less,” Goldenberg said.

Dehmer said the matrix measuring an area’s risk of COVID-19 transmission isn’t a hard-and-fast rule about how potential school closings will be handled if there are infections. He said local health departments will make the ultimate decisions.

“That’s only one aspect of how the local health department looks at any certain case. They’re managing all kinds of data points coming in. So that’s certainly one important element, but it’s not the only thing they’re looking at,” Dehmer said.

The state’s guidance said implementation of the public health recommendations should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at

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