As Gov. Phil Murphy considers additional restrictions, so far he has been adamant about keeping schools open for classroom instruction. That's fine by NJEA for now.

After Murphy initially said all schools would reopen for classroom instruction in September, the state's largest teachers union asked for districts to be allowed to delay a return to classrooms if needed. Murphy also agreed to give parents the option to keep their children home for full-time remote learning.

"We said we can't look at the calendar, given the pandemic. We have to look at when each district is ready to open and ensure the health and safety. That has to be first. The governor completely agreed with that," NJEA President Marie Blistan told New Jersey 101.5.

Murphy has left it up to individual districts during the academic year that started in September to determine how schools will offer instruction, be it a hybrid mix of in-person and online instruction, all remote or a full return to classrooms.

The union gave Murphy the first major endorsement of his re-election campaign for governor.

On NBC's "Today" on Thursday morning," Murphy said that shutting schools is "something that could happen but at the moment, back to school two months in has worked quite well. So far so good."

He said later that despite the increase in cases there is "a clear disconnect between the reality of what's going on inside of our school buildings and the communities that surround them."  As of Saturday there were 193 cases statewide connected to 51 outbreaks traced to in-school contact, according to the state Department of Health.

Blistan said the governor continues to take the pandemic seriously and noted that he said that all options including closing schools are on the table to deal with the second wave.

"He was going to continue to look at the data, the science and the medicine surrounding it. That we agree with him on," Blistan said of his comments on NBC.

"He has given the ability for any district to shut down immediately if they are not feeling they can offer safety and health," Blistan said.

Because coronavirus spreads more easily indoors in poorly ventilated areas, according to the CDC, Blistan shares Murhpy's concerns about people being indoors more as temperatures drop and winter gets closer making it hard to keep windows open in classrooms.

"Sometimes it's next to impossible. We all talk about keeping the windows open but when those temperatures drop if that's your sole reliance on health and safety and ventilation we're not going to be able to do it," Blistan said.

A number of districts, including Bound Brook, Montclair, Westfield and Woodbridge,  have decided to take instruction completely online until at least Thanksgiving,

The most recent district to go all-remote is Piscataway, which anticipates to return to class no earlier than Jan. 11.

As the number of reported cases climbs in both New Jersey and around the country, Blistan said Murphy must intervene if a superintendent does not close schools during a major outbreak.

"If we have a district that doesn't take the precautionary road in the interest of health and safety, then it is the governor's responsibility to step in and say 'you are closing' just as he is with any of the businesses," Blistan said. "I'm all about being proactive and I commend the districts that make those decisions to err on the side of health and safety."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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