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Artist Charles Barbin, 41, of Brigantine, a member of the Atlantic City Arts Foundation, paints a mural on the court at Columbia Avenue in the Venice Park neighborhood of Atlantic City on Wednesday. The court’s bright new look was completed in time for Saturday’s Stay Hungry Sports Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament. ‘We love the court. People can’t wait to come and perform,’ Stay Hungry founder Deshawn Ward said.

Transformation of the court began two weeks ago. Barbin first designed the mural on paper and then transferred it by scale to the court. ‘It’s a metamorphosis from the original drawing to the final product,’ the artist said. Artist Charles Barbbin, 41 of Brigantine and The Atlantic City Arts Foundation painting a mural on the basketball courts at Columbia Ave. Venice Park lagoon area in Atlantic City Wednesday June 24, 2020. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

Mayor Marty Small Sr. wants less noise and trash at SeaWall park in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Marty Small, Sr. does not want to shut down a popular gathering area along the seawall in Historic Gardner’s Basin, but he said he needs the people who hang out there to do a better job of keeping the noise down and cleaning up the place.

Small held a community meeting there at 9 p.m. Tuesday to discuss noise complaints that came in after Father’s Day weekend.

“The amount of calls that my office got yesterday (Monday) was unprecedented. I stayed in the office until 5:30 p.m. taking calls, talking to residents, about the happenings that went on up here this weekend,” said Small, who started his Tuesday night talk sitting in a lawn chair before standing up.

At 2:30 a.m., there were fireworks and loud music coming from the William “Bill” Demones Jr. Atlantic City Seawall Fishing Complex, and the city noise ordinance is set at 10 p.m., Small said.

Small reminded his audience of dozens of people that the seawall is part of a residential area where the noise from there can be heard in nearby Harbour Pointe, The Cove and Bungalow Park.

“It’s been out of control. Each and everyone of you out here know it,” said Small, who added he didn’t care who is doing it but that it has to stop. “This is a community. You have people who pay taxes in the neighborhood, and it’s a nuisance.”

If the complaints and problems continue, Small said he will be forced to either close the seawall completely or close it at 10 p.m.

“We don’t want to do that,” said Small, who added he wants seawall users to comply with the city’s noise ordinance.

The attraction of the seawall is that it is a relatively isolated place in the northern end of the city.

A public space, there is no cost to be there or to park, and there are plenty of parking spaces. In that regard, the spot is similar to The Cove in Brigantine, a popular waterfront area accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles and boats.

Complaints of overcrowding, noise and trash there last summer led to a reduction in permits and stricter enforcement.

Along Atlantic City’s seawall, the breeze comes off the water on a warm summer night and draws long-time resort residents, who unpack tents, cook out, play music and socialize. Those who spoke to Small on Tuesday said a younger crowd that’s discovered the area is to blame for the recent complaints.

Small’s solution Tuesday was to ask users of the area to form a committee that could report on what happens there. The committee would not be just for detailing problems at the seawall, but it also could tell him what could be improved.

“Y’all are saying, ‘It’s not us,’ but y’all are out here every day. You can’t let anyone come up here and mess it up,” Small said.

Pictures of the trash on the ground at the seawall after Father’s Day made it onto Facebook, but Small said those pictures were put on social media to embarrass him during election season.

Small is a candidate in the July 7 primary to be the Democratic nominee for mayor against Pamela Thomas-Fields and Jimmy Whitehead. Thomas J. Forkin will be his challenger as he is running unopposed on the Republican line.

“The seawall is not going anywhere. This is the city’s park. We are investing in this park. As you have seen, the seawall improve over the years, I got $3.7 million to improve the interior, exterior, new bathrooms, everything, so the seawall is not going anywhere,” said Small, who received applause from attendees for that statement.

Maurice “Monk” Marshall, 49, said he may volunteer to be on the committee. He has been coming to the seawall for at least the last 10 years. Now, he is up to visiting five times a week from 3 p.m. to either 7 or 8 p.m.

“All my friends are here. We talk, fish, play music,” Marshall said. “We eat, laugh and joke.”

GALLERY: Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small through the years

NJ releases flexible guidance for schools to reopen in September

TRENTON — Teachers and staff in masks, more cleaning and disinfecting, and rearranged classrooms will be among the changes in place when New Jersey’s public and nonpublic schools reopen this fall, according to guidance released by the Department of Education on Friday.

“Social distancing will be our guiding principle,” Gov. Phil Murphy said as he announced the reopening regulations during his daily coronavirus response briefing Friday afternoon, joined by Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet.

School officials and parents were eagerly awaiting this guidance to begin planning for the upcoming school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools were closed to in-person instruction in mid-March as the virus began to spread across New Jersey.

Repollet noted that parents and educators, while doing an “amazing job” with remote learning, felt it wasn’t effective for students.

“It is becoming abundantly clear that children need to return to a school environment in some capacity, and we need to do so safely,” Repollet said. “This is a matter of educational growth, and it’s a matter of equity.”

Murphy said that administrations will be given flexibility to reopen in the way that best fits their districts, which may include continued remote learning or a hybrid in-person and remote model depending on the capabilities of the district.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach that we can possibly take,” Murphy said, noting the 577 public school districts and numerous charter and other nonpublic schools in the state. “The ability to make local decisions has always been a hallmark of education in New Jersey, and it still is.”

Repollet also said that although the guidance gives great flexibility to school districts on how they reopen, it was created with equity in mind and includes ways for districts to get more funding to implement their plans.

The 90-page document details some minimum requirements for school districts, including developing a reopening plan; establishing a school “pandemic response team;” maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet inside the classroom to the maximum extent possible and keeping windows open when weather allows; requiring staff to wear masks and encouraging students to do so where possible or when social distancing cannot be maintained; adopting enhanced cleaning procedures; and maintaining social distancing on school buses or requiring masks be worn.

If cafeterias or group dining areas are used, food service directors should stagger meal times to allow for social distancing; discontinue self-serve or buffet lines; and consider having students eat meals outside or in their classrooms. Recess should also be held in staggered shifts.

School districts also must adopt a policy for screening students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure, the guidance states.

The guidance places a great importance on academic, social and behavioral supports for students and staff, and addresses funding and purchasing recommendations for districts.

The reopening guidance is for public schools, but Repollet said nonpublic schools also are encouraged to use the document to create reopening strategies.

Both the plan and Murphy acknowledged that for some students, including young children, those with special needs and those with health concerns, wearing a mask may not work.

The guidance was developed over the last month with input from stakeholders, including administrators, advocacy groups, parents and educators, and with the health and safety of the students, staff and community being the top priority, Murphy said.

He said it is also based on the evolving data and recommendations from the state Department of Health.

Some of the guidance also follows the Centers for Disease Control recommendations for schools and childcare centers released in May.

There are some items within the guidance noted as considerations that are not required, such as discouraging reading circles “because of their inherent inability to promote social distancing,” Murphy said.

He said the guidance gives schools the entire summer break to plan and prepare, and that districts anticipating scheduling changes should notify parents and caregivers at least one month before the start of school.

Murphy said that school districts also need to be prepared for another closing.

“We have to have at our ready a plan to flip a switch, to hit the emergency break. We have no choice,” he said. “We are still in the fight, we are still in the war. We’ve come a long long way in New Jersey, but we had to go through hell to get here.”

Newly appointed Millville Superintendent Tony Trongone said the district has been working on its plan for the last three weeks. After listening to Murphy on Friday, Trongone said the majority of the reopening logistics for his 6,000-student district have been worked out, but there are still some unknowns.

“We’re at least 65% of the way there,” he said. “We have to be cognizant of the need for younger kids to be in school, parents need to go to work. The plan for preschool to (grade) five is going to look differently than 6-12.”

Some of the unknowns include transportation or what to do if a student arrives ill.

One concern Trongone noted is the financial impact of the changes and relying on the federal CARES Act to pay for the increased costs.

“What happens in the following year? I don’t think this is going to go away. School is going to look much different than it looked on March 16, 2020, moving forward,” Trongone said.

Repollet said that in the coming days, the Department of Education will begin engaging with local districts to answer questions and aid in planning.

Read the “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education”.

Democrats seeking Van Drew seat show differences at debate

The Democrats vying to challenge Jeff Van Drew in the 2nd Congressional District agree that reforms in policing and immigration are needed. They also share similar stances on moving to all-clean energy by 2050, gun control and taking steps to mitigate climate change.

During a debate Thursday night sponsored by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, the three candidates — Will Cunningham, Brigid Callahan Harrison and Amy Kennedy shared many views, although some differences stood out.

On health care reform, Cunningham, of Vineland, said he is the only candidate in the race to support Medicare for All as an answer to the problem of access to health care and affordability of insurance. He holds a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin and left a job with the House Oversight Committee in Washington to run.

“My opponents aren’t there, where they should be on this issue,” Cunningham said. “In the pandemic, black people died at three times the rate of white people. Access to care is the issue.”

Harrison, a professor of politics and law at Montclair State University, said she supports a single-payer system that allows people to keep private insurance and sunsets agreements already made with labor unions.

Unions would then negotiate cost of living increases once the government eventually takes over the provision of health care, Harrison, of Longport, said.

Kennedy, of Brigantine, is a mental health advocate and former public school teacher. She said she favors moving away from a system that ties health care to employment. She instead favors expansion of the ACA and making sure “Medicare will be available to all those who want it.”

The three were invited to the debate because they raised and spent enough money to have to file a first quarter campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission, said John Froonjian, executive director of the Hughes Center.

The other two Democrats still in the race are West Cape May Commissioner John Francis, an author and motivational speaker, and Robert Turkavage, of Brigantine, a retired FBI agent.

Cunningham was also the only candidate who said he favored enacting the Green New Deal and said he would specifically move to fund multibillion dollar Army Corps of Engineers projects to build flood control gates, levies and bulkheads.

Harrison stood out for being the only one to say she would lobby to have the federal government complete a 66-mile rail line connecting Atlantic City up the coast to the New Jersey Transit line that goes to New York City.

“We have great schools, beautiful views, Pinelands, the ocean,” Harrison said, adding it would be a great place to live and commute to North Jersey or New York City. “Here we have no access to North Jersey or New York City by rail. It is certainly feasible for people to commute that way.”

Kennedy was the lone voice calling for more investment in infrastructure to make telecommuting more efficient, such as higher speed internet infrastructure.

“People will be working and learning from home,” Kennedy said. “Investment takes many forms.”

Candidates took issue with Kennedy’s ties to Wellpath, a company that works in the for-profit prison system.

The attacks came twice, once when the candidates were answering a question about racial inequities and white privilege, and later when they were addressing immigration issues.

“Part of inequity in the system is the school-to-prison pipeline,” Harrison said.

Then she asked why Kennedy accepted $11,000 in campaign contributions from Wellpath, a for-profit company that provides medical services and mental health services to people in prisons and jails throughout the nation.

Harrison said Wellpath is “known to ... victimize Black and Brown people,” and that there are allegations the company is implicated in the deaths of inmates and those held at Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.

“I think this is a persistent attack Brigid has made on my campaign. Yet she has refused to take a pledge of not taking PAC money,” Kennedy countered. “She herself is willing to take money from corporations, then criticizes my family for its involvement in mental health.”

Later, when the attack came again, Kennedy answered more directly.

“I would agree there should not be ICE detention centers, but the people there should receive treatment for mental health,” Kennedy said.

The debate happened as vote-by-mail ballots have arrived and many have already been completed and mailed to the Board of Elections. Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the July 7 primary to be mostly vote-by-mail to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 in polling places.

The Democratic winner will face the winner of the Republican primary, which is expected to be U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew. Van Drew switched parties to Republican late last year in a move that lit a fire under the Democrats he had left behind.

Van Drew’s GOP opponent, Bob Patterson, who recently changed his permanent address to Ocean City, does not have much organizational support or campaign funding.