New Jersey schools are being permitted to reopen in September for at least some in-person instruction, and President Donald Trump is going toe-to-toe with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over national guidance for school reopenings, even as coronavirus infection rates spike in an increasing number of states.

Because no one is really sure what the pandemic will look like in two months, the New Jersey Education Association is one of several groups backing a National Call to Action to raise awareness of the need for infection prevention and control plans with the goal of keeping schools open in the 2020-21 academic year.

"The CDC guidelines are a minimum," Steve Beatty, NJEA secretary-treasurer, said in a Thursday afternoon Zoom call. "We're not going to have to be able to rely on state guidelines, and in talking about school districts, there can be no flexibility when it comes to the health and safety of our students and our educators and everyone in those buildings."

The National Call to Action asks that public health agencies provide structured plans to protect not only students but the educators who interact with them — and everyone else who interacts with both groups outside of the schools.

"As a parent, I should not be put in the position to have to choose between my child's health or attending school," Debra Coyle McFadden, executive director of the NJ Work Environment Council, said. "And as an advocate for worker safety, a worker should not have to choose between their health and a paycheck."

Some on Thursday's call made the point that disabled students and those in underprivileged communities remain most at risk not only for the virus, but also for falling behind in their educational opportunities.

"We can't forget that there have been quite a few people, children who've been sort of left out, I think, when schools closed, and that includes a lot of children with special needs who need full-time assistance," Claire Barnett, Healthy Schools Network executive director, said.

Barnett is also the coordinator of the national Coalition for Healthy Schools, which hosted Thursday's call.

A lack of consensus so far on reopening plans is something the New Jersey groups are asking health and education officials to look at with critical eyes.

"Any plan to reopen, whenever that is, must be the work of the stakeholders, must be joint committees that are established, work like this that is disseminated and used," Beatty said.

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