Last Friday, the New Jersey State Assembly passed two bills for which Teach NJ strongly advocated. One bill will establish the “Bridging the Digital Divide Grant Program”; the other would provide $20 million to help schools afford the deep cleaning they might need to ensure that all traces of the virus are gone.
Teach NJ is part of the Orthodox Union’s Teach Coalition; it advocates on behalf of all private schools in general, and for faith-based schools in particular.
These two bills were aimed at all schools, public and private, secular and faith-based, and they are in response to the pandemic. That’s because “the pandemic does not discriminate,” Katie Schlussel Katz of Teaneck, Teach NJ’s executive director, said. “Covid-19 does not discriminate against anybody.” It goes after everyone. So whenever any action that the state government takes to help schools respond to the virus is aimed only at public schools, “a lot of parents and schools will be struggling. So these bills are to make sure that all students, regardless of where they go to school, are receiving these opportunities and getting all the help that they need.”
Ms. Katz described the two bills. The grant program “reimburses schools for the purchase of technology,” she said. “Laptops and tablets and access to hot spots. It’s specifically for parents whose families do not have the means to buy them.” Those devices are particularly necessary now, with all schools closed and all learning gone digital. On Monday, the state Senate passed the bill; as of Monday it was awaiting Governor Phil Murphy’s signature. He is expected to sign the bill into law.
The other bill, which has not yet gone to the Senate for approval — it’s not clear when it will be sent there — “provides up to $20 million to sanitize a school’s facility, and any school in New Jersey can apply for it,” Ms. Katz said.
“Before any students can go back to school, the school has to be sanitized, so the schools put together a list of their estimated costs.” The Frisch School in Paramus was the first Jewish school in Bergen County to have anyone from its community test positive; as a result, it’s been deep cleaned. “The school brought in a special sanitization company,” Ms. Katz said. She doesn’t know how much it cost, but she knows that it was not a cheap procedure.
Each school’s need for cleaning will depend at least in part on how long it has been closed, and what epidemiologists learn about how long the virus can live on the various surfaces that can be found in schools.
“Both of those bills received overwhelming support from the state Assembly, and we feel positive about them,” Ms. Katz said. “We are really happy that non-public school students are included in those bills. We have continued to advocate for those students as the bills continue to be developed; we advocate for them to include as many of our students and families as they can.”
“We are pleased that Trenton has acted swiftly to ensure schools have the resources they need in order to manage an extreme and unplanned-for public health crisis and that nonpublic schools will have access to these critical resources,” she added in a press release.
“Families throughout New Jersey are taking unprecedented steps to ensure their own health as well as that of their loved ones and fellow community members. It is important for communities to have peace of mind that their children can continue learning during this period and that facilities will be safe for all students, faculty and staff once schools re-open.”