TRENTON — State education officials on Friday announced further guidelines for the new school year, making it clear that all families will have the option of keeping their children home this fall.

The supplementary guidelines released Friday state that all children will be eligible for remote learning regardless of their risk for contracting the coronavirus. Districts also have to make this option available for special-needs students.

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"It's not going to be a normal school year," Murphy said Friday, adding that it would be "a challenge for everyone" but that New Jersey was "king of the hill of public education in America" because of its schools, teachers and families.

"Allowing this option will help decrease the student density within our schools and allow classroom spaces to stretch further to ensure proper socal distancing for other students and staff," he said.

Murphy said districts will still have the flexibility to craft their own plans.

"We are not mandating any one specific way to move forward," he said.

With about five weeks before the start of the school year, the state’s nearly 600 school districts have been scrambling to develop plans to provide instruction during a pandemic. Plans have included a mix of in-person, at-home and hybrid instruction along with policies for mask-wearing and social distancing in classrooms.

Public and private school buildings have been closed since Gov. Phil Murphy ordered them shut in March.

The question about schools has become another political flashpoint during a presidential election year, with many of those skeptical of the strict shutdown measures urging schools to open.

The state’s teachers unions said this week that their members do not believe schools are ready to reopen safely in September.

Keeping children home also presumes that families will be able to provide supervision, which is not an option for parents who cannot work from home.

Murphy said allowing parents the option to keep their children home became possible because of $54 million in federal aid, which will be used to provide laptops and internet access to the nearly 230,000 students who lack access.

The state’s guidelines on Friday said that districts must provide parents with clear policies and procedures for applying for both at-home instruction as well as transitioning back to in-class or hybrid programs. The policies have to be available in families’ home language.

Remote learning has to follow the same standards as classroom instruction, including length of school day and attendance.

For students with disabilities, districts will have to determine how remote learning will fit into their individualized education program.

Nearly 14,000 people have died from COVID-19 in New Jersey, almost all older adults. Communities have seen recent COVID-19 cases of teenagers, some of whom attended house parties.

Children and younger people are less likely to develop serious illness from the coronavirus, although their lack of symptoms also makes it easier for them to spread it to others and to more vulnerable people.

READ MORE: 10 reasons students wearing masks to school won’t work

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email

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