Students in one of New Jersey's largest school districts are preparing to return to their classrooms for the first time in over a year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced academics online.
Newark Public Schools will start welcoming students back on Monday in a hybrid reopening model that has students returning for in-person classes two days a week. Students will attend in-person class on Mondays and Tuesday or Thursdays and Fridays. Remote learning will continue the other three days of the week.
Newark has been one of the state's hardest-hit areas with more than 900 COVID deaths reported. The ongoing challenges of the pandemic has led to three prior back-to-school dates that were pushed to this week. The delay was due to many factors insteading installation of ventilators, rise in cases and safety oncerns from the teachers' union.
Less than half of parents have chosen to let their kids return to classroom learning, NJ.com reported. Those who return will be required to wear face coverings on all school grounds, including buses, and can only be removed at designated meal times.
In late March, the district announced plans to implement pooled testing - a method to detect COVID-19 by collecting samples from a classroom and running them as a single test. The district said a multi-layered approach to safe learning includes regular testing, as well as social distancing, extensive cleaning, and social distancing.
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“The Board is extremely excited about the partnership with Concentric by Gingko Bioworks who will provide onsite weekly COVID-19 testing of students,” said Board President Garcia. “The unanimous vote of the Board on this resolution is indicative of our ongoing unified support of the Newark Reopening Plan and we look forward to joining other school districts in this endeavor.”
The district's 25-page reopening guide includes details of a four-step safety procedure that includes a health screening, temperature check, footwear sanitizing and hand washing.
Classroom desks will be arranged to provide at least 6 feet of distance between students, each adorned with a 3-sided clear desk partition, the guide stipulates. And a staggered recess program will aid in reducing the numbers of students on the playground and in hallways.
The district has also planned to deliver breakfast and lunches meal directly to classrooms with single use utensils. Students and staff are encouraged to bring their own water bottles because fountains will be kept off.
Teachers in the state have been eligible for over a month after Gov. Phil Murphy opened vaccine access to educators back on March 7. At least 2,000 educators and support staff in the district have been vaccinated so far, TAPinto Newark reported last week.
In its fourth month of vaccination efforts, New Jersey had fully vaccinated over 2.15 million people as of Sunday.