As all New Jersey public and private schools concluded their final day of classroom education before a shutdown, only three school districts were not ready to begin online learning.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday ordered all public, private and parochial schools from pre-K to grade 12, and all colleges and universities to close for two weeks starting on Wednesday, March 18, although more than 400 public school districts had already closed on their own.

During a media briefing on Tuesday, State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan said only three out of more than 600 public school districts had not yet submitted a plan.

Murphy added that those three districts were "overwhelmingly the very rural districts that have their own particular issues."

The three districts were not named.

In order for the days of home-based instruction to count towards the required 180-day school year, districts had to develop an instruction plan, according to Department of Education spokesman Mike Yaple.

"We also followed up with a checklist of issues that districts should consider: Does their plan provide for equitable instruction for all students, including those with special needs? Does the plan address the food-security needs of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch? Does the plan address the various needs of students when it comes to technology and home instruction," Yaple said.

Bagged lunches awaited pick-up by students at Linden High School on Tuesday, March 17, the first day of at-home learning. From left are Board of Education President Gregory R. Martucci; Food Service Director Marcia Morgan, Susan Pitts and Eileen Martinko, all of Pomptonian Food Service; and Linden Police Department Special Law Enforcement Officer Class III Keith Aslin (Linden Public Schools)

Yaple said the state isn’t trying to prescribe a one-size-fits all approach because the school districts know their communities best and they are in the best position to determine what works for their students.

Some schools are offering online learning, paper-based instruction, and pre-loading laptops with lessons – sometimes offering students a choice for what works best for them.

Lakewood distributed 1,300 Google Chome books on Tuesday, according to district attorney and spokesman Michael Inzelbuch.

Annette Maldonado, assistant principal at the Clifton Avenue Elementary School in Lakewood, said the distribution of the devices and work packets of information they'll need to access daily lessons and live instruction via Google Classroom went well.

"The parents have come out in high numbers. They're waiting patiently, they're missing work to come get the school work and computers," Maldonado said.

There is help for students who do not have their own internet access. Yaple said internet service providers are stepping up and offering hot spots for student access. Altice is providing free hot spots in Lakewood and Mount Olive for online education purposes.

The Orthodox Jewish leadership group in Lakewood, the Vaad, has arranged for students to use hotspots at Orthodox businesses as well, Inzelbuch said.

Linden Public Schools served more than 200 lunches to students on the first day of grab-and-go service on Tuesday, the district’s first full day of at-home learning due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to spokesman Gary Miller. Students will be able to pick up a bagged lunch at one of three locations each weekday.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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