NEWARK, NJ – When Newark Public Schools return to class on April 12, students and educators will return to school buildings with various COVID-19 protocols and safety procedures.

Efforts that district officials have made to ensure a safe return include implementing a hybrid / personal teaching model where students come to campus either on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays and study remotely on Wednesdays.

“Throughout the year we prepared and built confidence in our return to face-to-face teaching, including taking many steps to provide a safe and welcoming environment for our students and staff,” said Nancy Deering, school district spokeswoman. “We are incredibly excited about the hybrid learning program and can’t wait to see our students in person.”

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When staff and students return, the school district plans to do the following to hold classes in the classroom.

Weekly pooled COVID tests

The district will conduct weekly tests for students, teachers, and staff.

The Newark Board of Education last week approved a resolution to partner with Ginkgo Bioworks Inc., a Boston-based biotech company, that approves the implementation of a pooled testing program in schools upon return to face-to-face classes and for the duration of the School year 2020-21.

“We are very excited to take part in Ginkgo Bioworks’ COVID-19 student testing as it provides parents, students, staff and the community with an extra level of confidence when we return to face-to-face classes,” said Roger León , Superintendent of Newark Schools said, “We stand ready to join school districts across the country to help curb the spread of COVID-19.”

Pooled classroom testing, which combines swabs from all the consenting people in a classroom and running them as a single test, can potentially be an effective way to test multiple people with fewer resources at once.

Concentric by Ginkgo’s program provides all of the training, testing materials, laboratory and computing services necessary to provide affordable pool testing. The program currently supports more than 350,000 students in schools in over 15 states.

The company launched its pooled testing program in January and previously announced that it had been selected to conduct testing in other districts such as the Baltimore Public Schools and the Massachusetts K-12 schools as part of a program with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Part of the district’s plan to move educators back into school buildings also stipulates that every employee must document the negative test results in order to be able to return to work personally. District officials said they would introduce a retry protocol later in the year.

Expanded vaccination efforts for teachers and support staff

Following Governor Phil Murphy’s announcement in March that vaccination eligibility would be extended to PreK-12 teachers and school support workers, district officials helped fuel these efforts to introduce vaccines to schools in Newark.

Part of the district’s strategy is to set up a pop-up clinic at Barringer High School, open to staff from district, charter, private, ecclesiastical and early childhood centers in the city.

“The fact that [students] Attending a certain type of school doesn’t matter to me, ”León told TAPinto Newark in March. “Providing the vaccines to teaching and support staff in all of these schools and various offices is extremely important to me as superintendent.”

At a school board meeting last week, the superintendent announced that the district has already administered vaccines to 2,000 registered educators and support workers.

In addition to the district’s efforts to vaccinate employees, hospitals in the area are also intervening. The University Hospital and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center have stepped up their vaccination efforts for Newark educators by adding clinics.

Dr. Franklin Hickey, interim vice president of Ambulatory Care Services at the university hospital, said when he was contacted by Newark charter and district school officials to open up more vaccination options for teachers, he coordinated his staff and processes to meet the effort.

The hospital’s COVID vaccination clinic operates a four-lane lane method, each consisting of six seats, to vaccinate patients. In order to introduce more vaccines for teachers and open up additional slots, a fifth lane has been added with additional staff consisting of 8 to 10 registered nurses, 8 to 10 technicians and 7 to 8 employees, according to Hickey.

“We made it our business to take them in because we want to help the kids get back to school as soon as possible,” Hickey told TAPinto Newark. “Our focus is on the community, so the teachers and staff who work in these facilities are part of the community. To make sure we have a healthy community, we need to be on the front lines to make sure these people get what they need to get back to a sense of normalcy.

“Our goal is for anyone who wants the vaccine that meets the criteria – we will introduce them,” he said.

Entry procedure and school construction protocol

In order to be able to safely admit pupils and educators into the school buildings, the district has introduced a four-stage entry procedure.

The inbound process includes a symptom review, temperature check, disinfecting shoes, and hand washing / disinfecting.

After entering the building, individuals are required to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and often wash their hands for at least a minute.

Desks will be rearranged in classrooms at least 3 m apart to maximize space between students. Three-sided free desk partitions are used on student desks to maintain social distancing. Signage, floor decals, and colored tape can be used to provide visual cues and ensure procedures are followed.

For the safety of staff and students, district officials said visitors are not allowed to enter school buildings. In the event that a non-employee is required to enter the building, a face mask is required to cover the mouth and nose and the visitor is screened.

Food distribution for students

All meals are individually wrapped and distributed for personal learners.

For breakfast, students have the option of having breakfast at the entry points set by the school principal, which are provided by the food service staff and placed in the classroom before entering the classroom, or individual packaged meals are placed in the Classroom delivered distribution.

For lunch, meals can be delivered to the classroom by the food service staff 5 to 10 minutes before lunch. Students can go to a designated area to pick up a packed lunch, return to class and consume lunch in the classroom, or follow social distancing protocols: students pick up a single packed lunch in the cafeteria, return to class, and consume lunch in the classroom.

For more information on the Newark Public Schools reopening schedule, please visit the school board’s website: https://www.nps.k12.nj.us/