FILE - NJ Students, pre-kindergarten 6-10-2020

A pre-Kindergarten class from Bradford School poses for pictures during a short graduation ceremony June 10, 2020, in front of the school in Jersey City, New Jersey.

(The Center Square) – New Jersey students will return to the classroom in the fall unless there is any change in the number of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Phil Murphy and Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet announced Friday.

The plan involves social distancing in classrooms and required face coverings for school staff and visitors. Students will be required to wear face coverings if they cannot socially distance, with an exception for students who cannot wear a mask for health reasons.

Staff and students considered high risk for coronavirus complications will be offered opportunities for telework and virtual learning, according to the guidelines.

The state’s public schools closed March 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. About 50 organizations and 300 superintendents helped develop the guidelines for reopening the schools. Education officials collected surveys from about 300,000 parents.

Repollet said the efforts of educators and families over the past three months was “nothing short of heroic.”

“However, too many parents feel that remote-only instruction isn’t working for their child, and too many children are falling behind” Repollet said. “It is becoming abundantly clear that children need to return to a school environment in some capacity, and we need to do so safely. This is a matter of educational growth, and it’s a matter of equity.”

Local school system will work with their communities in adapting the state’s guidelines.

Other considerations include meals, which should be offered at staggered times so that students will be able to social distance, according to the guidelines. Some meals may be eaten in the classroom or outside. Recess will be in shifts.

Students will be seated in alternate rows on the bus and face coverings should be worn if students cannot socially distance.

Also, on Friday, Murphy signed a bill that will offer member of the classes of 2021 and 2022 a “bridge year” following their senior year. The students can take high school or college courses and will be allowed to participate in high school athletics.

“Despite schools and educators finding innovative ways to keep the student body connected through distance learning, some activities simply don’t translate in an online setting,” said Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden/Burlington, Mila Jasey, D-Essex/Morris and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen who co-sponsored the legislation. “Affording high schoolers, whose educational experiences will look different from their peers as a result of this pandemic, a chance to make up for lost time is how we offset the impact of these unprecedented times.”