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Three months after school doors were closed and education went virtual, the state Department of Education says around 89,000 students still don’t have access to technology devices or the Internet.

That’s not going to be fixed in the waning days of the 2019-20 school year, and Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet could not assure lawmakers at a Senate Education Committee hearing Monday that all students would have devices in September, when it’s still not clear if schools buildings will reopen.

“I anticipate that you’re probably going to have in September 90% of our districts up and running in regards to one-to-one devices,” Repollet said.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said that’s “wholeheartedly unacceptable” and that if needed, the state should buy the devices itself, then claw back funds from districts to pay for it.

“The fact that we’re not all angry and livid about this is extraordinary. We talk about equity, and then we do things that are anti-equitable,” Ruiz said.

“If a child does not have a tablet and/or the Internet, I mean, we are part of the significant problem right now,” she said.

Repollet says districts might be waiting to receive federal aid before buying technology but that there is sufficient money available from various programs to cover the costs.

The Department of Education’s school reopening plan is due to Gov. Phil Murphy in mid-June, so probably next week, with its release to the public to follow sometime after that.

Repollet said it is still being development. He said districts are encouraged to have a way to measure ‘learning loss’ during virtual schooling and that the state might possibly recommend that districts “loop” teachers to advance a grade with their students, since they already know them.

“And creative scheduling,” Repollet said. “Some have a seven, six day schedule where you rotate A, B, C, D, so kids are in a district twice to three times a week.”

Repollet said creative scheduling could help address questions about school transportation. Seating on buses might be limited to every other row, with only student sitting in a row unless they are siblings.

“But if you go on a six-day schedule, you may have a third of the kids on the bus,” Repollet said.”If you look at breaking your school up into a third, you may have a third of the students in a district at once.”

Ruiz said districts need to know “sooner rather than later” and that July would be late for their planning and implementation purposes. She said that after looking at health-related recommendations from nurses, she’s skeptical that in-person schooling will be feasible in September.

“I don’t know we return back to school normally or with a price tag that is not huge,” Ruiz said.

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