Governor: New Jersey schools should be all in person in fall

There should be no option for remote learning, and all students should be back in person when the new school year starts in September, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.

Murphy, a Democrat, said that barring a big resurgence of COVID-19, the state's school districts should move ahead with Monday-through-Friday in-person instruction. He spoke during a news conference in Trenton and also announced new Health Department guidelines for schools.

The new guidance calls for allowing full-time, in-person education now if masking and frequent hand-washing can be maintained, as well as a 3-foot distance between students in the classroom. The new 3-foot distance, down from 6 feet, is in line with what federal regulators said last week.

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A 6-foot distance should be maintained in districts the state Health Department has determined have a high COVID-19 transmission rate, the governor said.

Schools have to keep 6 feet between students in common areas, like cafeterias, under the new guidelines.

"Now is the time for all of our schools to meaningfully move forward with a return to in-person instruction whether it be full-time or through a hybrid schedule," Murphy said.

Most of the state's school districts have some level of in-person instruction now. There are 534 using a hybrid schedule, which includes some in-person and remote learning. There are 143 districts that are all in person, and 90 that are entirely remote. A few dozen districts have some combination of in-person and remote learning across different schools within the district.

New Jersey has seen COVID-19 trends go in the wrong direction after a couple of weeks of positive developments. The seven-day rolling average of new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 3,322 on March 8 to 4,206 on Monday.

New Jersey also has the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days of any state.