NJ colleges are opening back up. Here’s the plan so far
Some New Jersey higher education students could be back in their classroom labs or doing other hands-on learning in just weeks.
And the state Wednesday issued New Jersey colleges and universities the guidance they'll use to start bringing more students back — though how many, how often, and when are open questions each school will seek to answer in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.
The office Wednesday released a list of requirements and a series of recommendations for schools to follow, to safely welcome students back on campus. They'll need to send her office plans for approval at least two weeks ahead of any expected reopening.
New Jersey shut down all grade-level and higher-education in-person instruction in March, as part of a broader series of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Starting on July 1, schools will be allowed to bring back labs and clinical rotations, Zakiya Smith Ellis, secretary of the Office of High Education, said Wednesday. Career and training schools will be able to do the same for hands-on instruction.
Ellis said when students do return to school, the college experience will most certainly be different this than in years past.
Smith Ellis stressed “institutions must observe standards of social distancing of six feet, sanitizing equipment and materials, hand washing, cleaning and disinfection.”
“In addition,” she said, “institutions must require face masks or coverings in indoor spaces, and institutions should strongly recommend face coverings or masks in outdoor spaces as well.”
She said while it is anticipated that in-person classroom instruction will be allowed to resume, the numbers of students in those classrooms will be limited. She declined to give a maximum number of students in a class, noting room sizes can vary widely.
Governor Phil Murphy said all requirements and recommendations put forth are focusing on ten key areas of campus life.
They include “instruction, housing, computer labs, libraries research labs, student services, transportation, dining, study abroad and athletics.”
He said the state's guidelines and rules are being made “to ensure that students, faculty and staff are protected as best as possible while on campus.”
Smith Ellis said because of classroom capacity limitations, “most institutions are going to be continuing with some hybrid version of in-person and online.”
She said in-person instruction will be permitted at Jersey colleges and universities starting July first, “but limited to instances where there are labs or clinical rotations (for medical students) as long as those are abiding by state established restrictions.”
Smith Ellis said dorms will be permitted to open, with capacity restrictions, if a college or university chooses to include on-campus living in its plans, but all common areas will have to remain closed for the foreseeable future.
She said in situations where there are common bathroom facilities in dorms, students will be reminded to keep their personal items separate from each other.
“You may remember, for those that went to college you had an orientation, that orientation is now going to have to include COVID-19 precautions, because if students don’t actually understand why this is important, they won’t be inclined to do these things," Smith Ellis saiud.
She also said on-campus dining facilities, assuming they will be permitted by the fall (no indoor restaurant dining of any kind is currently allowed in New Jersey), will not include any buffet options, and will feature plexiglass partitions for cashiers. Limited capacity restrictions will also be mandatory.
She said when colleges do come back, students and faculty with any elevated health risks must be given the opportunity to learn or teach virtually or remotely.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.