If the state wants K-12 schools to fully reopen this fall, it must prioritize vaccines for teachers, aides and others, clarify whether virtual learning will still be an option, and set clearer rules on how many students can be in classrooms and buses at the same time.

That was the message delivered at the New Jersey Business Coalition’s March 18 virtual town hall by David Aderhold, Ph.D., president of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, a nonprofit nonpartisan advocacy organization representing school board members and superintendents from more than 100 districts.

Aderhold, who is also the superintendent of the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District, stressed districts must make decisions now for September, yet there is still a lack clarity on a variety of outstanding issues impacting student rosters, such as whether parents will still be able to select an all-virtual learning option.

“Our budgets, our staffing, our master schedules happen now for the fall. We are literally building our high school schedule next starting next week, so to not have guidance for that, it’s just infuriating.”

The state needs to provide more support for a comprehensive vaccination effort that includes not just teachers, but all employees and independent school contractors, such as aides, custodians, food service workers and bus drivers.

“We need the vaccination support immediately. We’ve been asking for a coordinated approach to this for weeks, if not months, and to date there is no coordinated plan at the state level,” Aderhold said.

There also need to be clarification on social distancing so districts know for sure how many students can be inside a classroom or a school bus at the same time, Aderhold said.

“We need rules that don’t say things like ‘if possible’ or ‘to the extent possible,’” Aderhold said., “We need clarity around what is allowed.”

About 100 people, including state lawmakers, took part in the New Jersey Business Coalition’s third virtual town hall on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted schools and businesses.