Hudson County school districts address new COVID surge

'D' is for Delta variant

A student learns behind plexiglass shields on the first day back in classrooms at Woodrow Wilson Community School in Bayonne in May of 2021. Photo via Bayonne Board of Education on Twitter
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A student learns behind plexiglass shields on the first day back in classrooms at Woodrow Wilson Community School in Bayonne in May of 2021. Photo via Bayonne Board of Education on Twitter

Public schools in New Jersey must return to full day, fulltime, in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year beginning in September, according to the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). Across Hudson County, districts are planning for the reopening of schools as the pandemic rages on.

The state has reinstituted measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. On Aug. 6, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order mandating masks be worn by all occupants of school buildings.

The move came following a surge in COVID-19 cases, reportedly due to the rise of the Delta variant in the United States and unvaccinated residents, among other causes. While some approved of reinstituting the mask measure, some were dismayed.

The bottom line? Districts must teach students in person when classes are back in session in September.

Jersey City

The Jersey City School District will return full-time in-person on Sept. 9 from pre-K to 12, according to Deputy Superintendent Dr. Norma Fernandez. Virtual or hybrid programs are not an option this school year.

Mask mandates will be issued following Gov. Murphy’s executive order. They will follow with social distancing, frequent handwashing and respiratory etiquette for children. The district has installed air filters in all the buildings.

The district has been providing vaccinations for its staff since spring, and is currently promoting them for students 12 years or older. Dr. Fernandez encouraged everyone to get vaccinated, including adults, as students 3 to 11 years old are currently not eligible for the vaccines, and vaccinations will reduce the risk for younger children.

“We will take every precaution to keep our students and staff safe,” she said. “We’re doing this for only the second time for some children. But for others, it’ll be the first time they’re in school. So it’ll start out slow with September, but it’ll get easier and easier as we practice these new routines every day. So practice makes perfect, and that’s definitely something that will be part of the safe return in September.”

Hoboken

The Hoboken School District will be open five days a week full time, according to Superintendent Dr. Christine Johnson.

Dr. Johnson said they will be continuing pandemic measures from last year, which include mask mandates, temperature checks, daily COVID forms and desk shields, and rapid COVID testing in all nurses’ offices.

“We employed mass testing after long breaks and are ready to do that again if needed,” she said in an email.

The school district held vaccine clinics for staff and eligible students this spring, and will host them again when vaccines are available for younger children.

Bayonne

According to Superintendent John Niesz, the Bayonne School District will be open in-person for students on Sept. 8. Following Murphy’s executive order, all occupants of all district buildings must wear masks.

“We will provide masks if needed, hand sanitizer is available, social distancing will be enforced, we will take temperatures at entrances, home health screening tools will be available, signage in buildings, and plexiglass is available on desks and tables,” Niesz said in a statement. “We encourage any employee or student who is sick to remain home.”

Uniforms are required for all students, and lunch will be on a normal schedule. Students will be allowed to remove masks to eat lunch, but must put them back on when they are finished.

Prior to the district’s return to in-person instruction last May after spending the whole year virtual, most staff members were fully vaccinated. Many buildings and classrooms were renovated to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“I would like everyone to know I am as frustrated as all of you reading this,” Niesz said in a letter to the community on Aug. 3. “I wish I could write a welcome back letter without mentioning any of the above. However, we do not live in that world right now.”

North Bergen

According to North Bergen Superintendent of Schools Dr. George Solter, the district is finishing summer school programs ahead of September.

“We just completed our first enrichment summer program thanks to CARES Act money,” Solter said. “Our goal was to prepare our students for the opening of the next school year. We are now turning our attention to the opening of the 2021-2022 school year.”

Students will return to the classroom on Sept. 7, with in-person education five days a week for full days.

“We are working on procedures based on guidance from the CDC and direction from Governor Murphy’s Office, the New Jersey Department of Health, North Bergen Department of Health, and the New Jersey Department of Education,” Solter said.

Procedures for the upcoming year will be posted online by Aug. 20, according to Solter. For any questions, email Solter at gsolter@northbergen.k12.nj.us.

The district will use the same school uniforms as in the past, Solter said. Every student will be given a Chromebook and must have it available to use during school.

“We will be infusing technology into our lessons through performing research to questions asked, creating presentations for responses, and communicating with other groups, as some examples,” Solter said.

An open house for parents is planned for the week of Sept. 20.

West New York

The West New York School District will begin the year in person starting on Sept. 10, according to Superintendent Clara Brito Herrera.

“We will continue to follow recommendations by the CDC, NJDOE, and the WNY Department of Health regarding masks for all students and staff,” Brito Herrera said in a statement. “The governor and the Department of Health have recommended that those individuals eligible for vaccination, do so.”

According to Brito Herrera, a majority of staff has been fully vaccinated. Each building and classroom has been prepared for the September reopening, per guidelines from the CDC, the NJDOE, and the West New York Department of Health.

But the situation is fluid, and the protocols are subject to change by order of the aforementioned entities. The district will continue to monitor the situation carefully, prepared for the worst. Teachers must maintain their Google Classroom Learning Management System in ready mode, “should it become necessary.”

“Our community has been through so much during this pandemic, and we have stayed strong,” Brito Herrera said. “With everyone’s continued support and commitment, we are prepared to move forward.”

The rest of Hudson County

Districts in the rest of Hudson County must also comply with the NJDOE and operate under in-person instruction with COVID-19 protocols, including districts in Union City, Weehawken, Secaucus, and Guttenberg.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com.