New Jersey education officials still don’t know the depth of state’s digital divide

More than seven months after schools closed in March, and as coronavirus cases are rising again in New Jersey, the state Department of Education still does not have a solid handle on how many students lack access to the internet or devices on which to learn remotely.

a desk with a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: Chromebooks are seen after being cleaned at an elementary school in August.

© John Moore/Getty Images
Chromebooks are seen after being cleaned at an elementary school in August.

“We are working to collect updated info on the digital divide,” Mike Yaple, a DOE spokesperson, said in an email. Asked for a “ballpark figure” or an estimate on how many students are still struggling to connect, Yaple could not produce one and said the data could take “a few days, a week, or a few weeks,” to compile.


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Tracy Munford, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email Friday that the DOE “has compiled data submitted by school districts and is currently reviewing the data to ensure accuracy.”

The state reported in June that more than 358,000 students needed devices. Since then, some districts have taken it upon themselves and placed massive orders for laptops and Chromebooks, assuming reimbursements will come. Local philanthropists and businesses have also made donations to get students online.

It remains unclear how well this patchwork of solutions has worked.

Now, the New Jersey School Boards Association is calling on the DOE — under the new leadership of acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan — to produce documentation showing what the state has done to try and close the divide.

In its latest report, the NJSBA surveyed school officials and interviewed local board of education members and superintendents and found that as of July, nearly a quarter of the superintendents who responded said 16 percent or more of their students lacked internet access. Some said they did not have enough time to develop and implement their reopening plans accordingly.

Among other recommendations, the association is urging the DOE to make public a status report detailing how $54 million in “Bridging the Digital Divide” grants and related philanthropic contributions announced in July have been spent and used by schools.

POLITICO has attempted to obtain information on the grants through a public records request but was told the “application and review process is still ongoing.”

The association also recommends the Department of Education develop a statewide report on what students learned during the shutdown, a strategic plan to address learning loss, a report on the experience of New Jersey’s 246,693 special education students during the shutdown and a program to improve online learning.

The school boards association report — and months of conversations with teachers, superintendents and lawmakers — has revealed a foggy picture of what exactly the state has done to help get kids connected.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the most vocal critic of the DOE and the Murphy administration’s approach to handling the digital divide and remote learning, said in an interview last month that “it’s been a complete debacle.”

“I know everybody was hoping for a best-case scenario but

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New Jersey congressman Van Drew, who ditched Democrats for Trump, battling to keep seat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said New Jersey congressman Jeff Van Drew had “guts” when he abandoned the Democratic Party to join the Republicans, while an opponent nicknamed him “Switcheroo Van Drew.”

Next week, Van Drew will learn what voters in his district think of the move.

Recent polling indicates he is struggling in his Nov. 3 race for re-election in New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District against Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy, a former schoolteacher who married into the storied American political family. Nonpartisan political analysts say the contest is a toss-up.

In a bad omen for Van Drew, Trump – to whom the congressman pledged “undying support” in an Oval Office appearance last year – is also running behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in Van Drew’s district, which stretches across southern New Jersey and includes Atlantic City.

Trump, who carried New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District by 4.6 percentage points in 2016, is now trailing Biden by 3 points there, the Monmouth University Poll said this month.

“This is a race where whoever wins the presidential contest will probably carry in the congressional winner as well,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship at New Jersey’s Rowan University.

Van Drew’s challenger says many south New Jersey voters, suffering from unemployment and worried about their healthcare, changed their minds about Trump because of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s really revealed a lack of leadership … a failure to be able to really organize an appropriate response,” Kennedy said in an interview.

Elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 as a Democrat, Van Drew changed parties in December 2019 after disagreeing with the vast majority of Democrats on whether Trump should be impeached for trying to pressure a foreign government, Ukraine’s, to help the president win re-election.

Van Drew was one of just two Democrats to vote against both articles of impeachment against Trump in the House. The Senate acquitted the president.

Trump praised Van Drew before thousands of cheering citizens at a New Jersey rally in January. Van Drew also got a four-minute speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

Van Drew did not respond to a request for comment.

But nearly half the voters in the Monmouth University Poll released on Oct. 5 said they were bothered by Van Drew’s party switch. Kennedy led Van Drew in the poll, 49% to 44%.

Van Drew argued in an Oct. 9 debate with Kennedy that he has felt a “tremendous amount” of support for his party change. His district had been represented by a moderate Republican for 24 years before Van Drew won it in 2018.

But Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Poll, said Van Drew comes from a Republican part of his district and may have miscalculated what voters district-wide would think of his party switch – as well as how area attitudes might change about Trump.

“They look at it as just him trying to read the tea leaves

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Amid coronavirus pandemic, New Jersey names Angelica Allen-McMillan new state education commissioner

SOUTH ORANGE, New Jersey (WABC) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday he was nominating Angelica Allen-McMillan to be the state’s next education commissioner.

The appointment comes as the states’ more than 600 school districts work through the COVID-19 outbreak, with many holding online-only or hybrid lessons.

“A product of New Jersey’s public schools, Angelica has worked at all levels of education and knows exactly what our teachers and students need to succeed,” Murphy said. “She is an exemplary educator, and I’m confident she is the leader we need to carry our school communities through the remainder of this pandemic and beyond.”

Related: New Jersey’s coronavirus cases on the rise, sparking concern and action

Allen-McMillan will succeed Lamont Repollet, who announced his plan to leave over the summer to take the top post at Kean University.

“I am a proud product of New Jersey’s magnificent public education system, and I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the children of this state continue to get the type of education I received,” Allen-McMillan said. “I am extremely proud the governor has put his faith in me to continue New Jersey’s tradition of educational excellence.”

Kevin Dehmer has been serving as interim commissioner since Repollet’s departure.

“I’d also like to thank outgoing Interim Commissioner Kevin Dehmer for his tireless service during an unprecedented time for the Department and our state,” Murphy said. “He’ll continue to serve the DOE as CFO and Assistant Commissioner and will work alongside Angelica to advance an agenda that puts our students’ health, achievement, and well-being first, and maintains our state’s reputation as home to the nation’s best public education system.”

Allen-McMillan currently serves at the superintendent of Morris County schools.

The state’s education commissioner must be confirmed by the state Senate. The commissioner oversees the state Education Department, conducts statewide tests and is in charge of doling out billions of dollars in state aid to school districts.

Related: Newark extends remote-only learning for students as coronavirus cases rise

For over 25 years, Allen-McMillan has worked as a teacher and administrator in various school communities throughout New Jersey. From 2017 to 2018, she served as Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education for the Newark Public Schools system. Prior to holding that position, she served as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instructions in the Irvington School District.

She also served as a middle school Life and Physical Science teacher in the East Orange School District, the Executive Director of the Marion P. Thomas Charter School in Newark, Assistant Principal of Clinton Elementary School in Maplewood, and Principal of the Marshall School in South Orange.

She is a graduate of Cornell University, where she received a baccalaureate degree in Industrial and Labor Relations. In addition, she received a master’s and a doctorate degree in Education, Leadership, Management, and Policy from Seton Hall University.

She resides in Montclair with her husband, Randy, and their three children, Faizah, Jada, and Jason.

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report)


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