Newark Public Schools will continue teaching in person on January 18

Updated: Newark families and educators are carefully preparing for students to return to classrooms on Tuesday, about two weeks after the district returned to distance learning due to an increase in COVID cases.

The district announced on Friday night that personal training would continue on January 18, as planned. Schools have signaled in recent days that classrooms will reopen soon, and the president of the Newark Teachers Union has told members to “assume we will return.”

Some new data seems to support reopening, including a slight drop in positive COVID tests in the city, said Mayor Ras Baraka, who said on Friday that “our numbers are constantly falling at peak times.” However, the positivity rate remains high, at around 28%, and hundreds of school staff remain positive each week.

While waiting for a report from the district, some Newark parents and teachers expressed ambivalence about returning. They realize that distance learning is difficult for many students and working parents, who have to adjust their schedule in order to supervise their temporary home schoolers. Nevertheless, they also recall the sharp rise in COVID school cases last month due to the highly portable omicron variant and fear a recurrence if classrooms reopen.

“The best place they can study is school,” said Ruby McGaskill, an eighth-grade English teacher at Chancellor Avenue. “But we also want to be safe.”

Schools that sent students home this month due to the rise of COVID are starting to reopen across the country. About 20% of schools in New Jersey operated remotely this week, down from 35% the previous week, according to government officials. Jersey City is among the counties that plan to welcome students back to class next week, citing a decline in staff infections.

In contrast, the Paterson School District has decided to extend distance learning until at least January 24. Other neighborhoods, including Bloomfield and Montclair, allow families to choose between personal or virtual learning.

The Newark Public Schools website was updated on Friday to indicate that personal tuition will resume on January 18, adding: “Newark Public Schools are back!”

This week, the individual schools held virtual family reunions and posted on social media to tell students to prepare for their return next week. In a Facebook video released Friday, Bard High School principal at Early College Newark told the school community to expect a safe reopening next week.

“I’ve heard that many of you are facing this reopening with some fear or anxiety,” Dr. Carla Stephens, “and I wanted to assure you we were ready.”

Newark teachers’ chairman John Abeigon said in a letter to members this week that “for now” students and staff are expected to return to school on January 18. But he added: “As we have seen, things can change quickly. “And told members that they would be informed of any changes.

In an interview, Abeigon said he was encouraged by reports that new infections seem to be slowing down in several cities, including Newark, where new cases have risen last month. He added that he believed that the district’s security measures, including mandatory camouflage and vaccination of staff, had worked and that individual classes or even schools could be closed in the event of an outbreak without the entire neighborhood moving back to distance learning.

“Like everyone else, I feel a little confident and anxious at the same time,” he said.

One of the possible obstacles to reopening is the retention of school staff. Of the approximately 3,000 teachers and school staff who were tested for COVID during the winter holidays, as required by the district, about 11% were positive, Abeigon said. Infections continued during distance learning, with the district reporting 338 new cases of employees from 3 to 9 January.

Before the winter break, some schools faced a severe shortage of staff. One primary school teacher said there were so few substitutes that art and gym teachers had to make up for the missing teachers or classroom assistants from time to time. Many prison and canteen staff were also outside, which at one point forced the caretaker to perform a kitchen service, the teacher said.

“We’ve seen crazy things,” Chalkbeat said this week. “You never imagine seeing your deputy director cook lunch.”

Almost 90% of teachers are vaccinated in favor of the district, which significantly reduces their risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID. According to the new state guidelines, school staff and students who have tested positive for COVID now only need quarantine for five days instead of 10, which should help reduce disruption.

The district will resume weekly COVID testing in schools when the buildings reopen, Abeigon said. Last month, however, less than a third of the district’s roughly 38,000 students submitted their parents ‘or guardians’ consent to test.

A primary school teacher stated that only about five of her 14 students had submitted consent forms. Given the limited testing of students and the high number of cases in New Jersey, the teacher said she would prefer that distance learning be extended for a while longer.

“Although I’d rather have my children there,” she said at school, “I still don’t think it’s safe.”

Some Newark parents also feel conflict over the prospect of reopening schools on Tuesday.

Lisa Gordon said she was not feeling well about sending her two daughters back to school next week, Harriet Tubman, because she had seen so many people around them get sick. But he also believes that he learns best in person.

“You don’t want your kids behind,” she said.

Her husband, Kerone Jackson, said she was “50 out of 50” about reopening schools. Although distance learning is challenging for both students and parents, he said, he wouldn’t mind if it took a little longer until the infection rate dropped further.

On Thursday, he was mentally preparing to send his daughters back to school – but with great warning.

“If I hear about one case in my child’s class, I’ll pull them out,” he said. “I can’t risk mine.”

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