New Jersey’s governor wants schools open. Local officials have other ideas.


Gov. Philip D. Murphy has urged New Jersey school districts to open for some face-to-face instruction, repeatedly noting that the coronavirus spread among teachers and students was far lower than expected.

Last week, as New York City was reeling from the mayor’s decision to close the nation’s largest school district, Mr. Murphy joined with six other governors — including New York’s — to release a statement about the importance, and relative safety, of in-person instruction.

His own schools weren’t listening: While most districts in New Jersey had reopened for some in-person instruction, many announced plans this week to return to all-remote learning through all or part of the holidays.

The tensions point to the difficulty governors across the Northeast have had in persuading districts to reopen more fully — decisions that often require school boards to buck powerful teachers unions and to live with the inherent risk of outbreaks as the virus surges.

Parents and children are often caught in the middle, forced to quickly shift routines and expectations in a year already marred by the extraordinary challenges of remote instruction.

Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, has the power to shut down schools, as he did in March when New York and New Jersey were an early epicenter of the pandemic. And he has said that decisions about all-remote instruction need state approval and that districts must be working toward bringing students back to class.

Still, for all the governor’s public exhortations, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education could not point to a single instance when the state rejected a district’s plan to shift to all-remote instruction.

The governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut have faced similar pressure from districts and unions as they continue to stress the importance of in-person education. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo offered a plan to keep New York City’s schools open for at least a few more days, but the mayor rebuffed him.





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