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 online academics.

Newark Public Schools will welcome students in a hybrid reopening model starting Monday, with students returning to face-to-face classes two days a week. Students will attend classes in person on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays. Distance learning continues on the other three days of the week.

Face covering is mandatory for staff and students on all school premises, including buses, and can only be removed at set meal times.

In late March, the district announced plans to implement pooled testing – a method of detecting COVID-19 that involves collecting samples from a classroom and running 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.

“The board is excited to partner with Gingko Bioworks’ Concentric, who will conduct weekly on-site student COVID-19 tests,” said CEO Garcia. “The unanimous vote of the board of directors on this resolution shows that we continue to support the Newark reopening plan and we look forward to joining other school districts.”

The 25-page district reopening guide details a four-step safety process that includes health screening, temperature checking, disinfecting shoes, and hand washing.

The desks in the classroom will be arranged so that there is a minimum of 6 feet of space between students, each adorned with a 3-sided see-through desk partition as specified in the instructions. A staggered break program helps to reduce the number of students in the playground and in the hallways.

The district also has plans to deliver breakfast and lunch directly to classrooms with disposable supplies. Students and staff are encouraged to bring their own water bottles as fountains are kept away.

Teachers in the state have been eligible for over a month after Governor Phil Murphy opened access to vaccines to educators on March 7. At least 2,000 educators and support workers 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 more than 2.15 million people as of Sunday.

The classrooms in Lakewood, New Jersey have been full of students five days a week since September. The classrooms in Paterson, New Jersey were closed at all times. What’s behind the drastic difference in how the two school systems approach education in a pandemic? Chris Glorioso reports.