TRENTON – An online petition asking the state to allow remote learning options for students in the approaching school year is gaining speed, but Gov. Phil Murphy said he remains opposed.

New Jersey Parents for Virtual Choice began its efforts around two months ago, but the number of signatures on its online petition has nearly doubled to more than 1,100 just since Friday.

However, Murphy said Monday that his answer remains no – assuming that state officials remain confident students, their families and teachers can be kept safe during in-person school, which could depend on the spread of COVID-19’s Delta variant.

“There’s no question where the richer educational experience is, and that is full-on in-person,” Murphy said.

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Murphy said he has heard about some exceptions in which students thrived in remote schooling but described that as “the overwhelming minorities of experiences.” He expects as normal a school year as possible, with students in class Monday to Friday for full days.

“We know the results on virtual learning, and there’s enormous learning loss,” he said.

Bridgewater resident Karen Strauss, a co-founder of New Jersey Parents for Virtual Choice, said in-person school might not be best for all children this September. Some excelled in remote school, some are immune-compromised, some are bullied during in-person school.

“Murphy has said kids need to be in school, and that’s not true. He said we’re the minority, but are the minorities being pushed to the side? They’re being ignored,” Strauss said.

“We need to be heard,” she said. “He needs to realize kids are excelling in this and he’s actually holding them back by not even opening the door for conversation to hear the other side of it and hear how well kids are doing with virtual.”

Strauss said traditional, in-person learning is not the only way to deliver education. She said 33 states have some sort of virtual option and make it work. She said there are platforms and programs to work with that aren’t accredited in the state.

“New Jersey is behind the times, and so we need to catch up with the times and remember that education is not only one-size-fits-all,” she said. “We need to accommodate all kids.”

Strauss said hybrid classrooms didn’t work, agreeing with a woman she spoke with over the weekend who called it nonsense. She said fully virtually classrooms are effective for some students but that the state won’t even measure how many parents and families might be interested – and whether it’s enough that districts should offer programs, or perhaps counties or the state.

“It’s just being willing to take that step and open that door and open their eyes to the fact that not all children need to be in the classroom,” Strauss said.

Strauss has two school-aged children – a daughter who will attend high school in person, largely because of a specialized acting program, and a 5-year-son who will be home schooled if remote learning isn’t an option. He has asthma and is autistic and due to his age isn’t yet eligible for the vaccine.

“We personally lost someone from COVID, so it’s a real thing to us,” Strauss said. “And I don’t want to even contemplate the idea of having to go through that with my son because he got sick, especially with this new Delta variant.”

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