As schools switch from remote to hybrid learning, or from a hybrid model to fully in-person, a New Jersey arts education advocacy group wants school officials to know that curtains can rise on their stages.

In fact, there's never been any rule specifically blocking visual and performing arts from continuing during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Arts Ed NJ, New Jersey’s performing arts affiliate of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

"Visual and performing arts may occur in person, following proper mitigation strategies, in all of our public schools," Bob Morrison, director of the advocacy group, told New Jersey 101.5.

Morrison said there's been some misinformation regarding what is allowed and not allowed in the way of school-based performing arts programs such as choirs and theatrical performances.

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Because school athletics were prohibited at one point in New Jersey due to COVID-19, specific rules had to be introduced by the state in order to bring them back. Because a prohibition of public school visual and performing arts never existed, the state did not originally share guidance related to concerts and plays.

"As we prepare to bring many of our students back into our schools, their social emotional learning needs will be a central concern," reads a memo from Arts Ed NJ, to arts educators and school leaders across the Garden State. "This is why it is critical that our students have the opportunity to participate in those programs and activities that define who they are and bring them joy. For many students, it is the visual and performing arts."

Arts Ed NJ came up with its own guidance for the fall that has since been cited by the New Jersey Department of Health in its COVID-19 recommendations.

Morrison said schools are getting creative this spring in order to maximize exposure of their performances — setting up a stage on the school's football field, for example. But indoor attendance for performances is permitted; schools must adhere to the same executive orders that dictate rules for entertainment centers, he said.

New Jersey recently took the lead from federal health officials and declared that schools are permitted to keep just three feet between students instead of six. Morrison said guidance for arts is sticking with six feet for the time being. Unsure how long the pandemic will impact New Jersey and in what way, the advocacy group is preparing guidance for performing arts programs to follow in Fall 2021.

The memo notes that there has been no documented spread of COVID-19 in the scholastic visual and performing arts in New Jersey or anywhere in the country.

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