No student ‘vaccine mandate’ for Bayonne’s school district

But Superintendent John Niesz said that might change if the governor demands it

Superintendent of Schools John Niesz answered parents' questions about the return plan at the August meeting of the Bayonne Board of Education.
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Superintendent of Schools John Niesz answered parents' questions about the return plan at the August meeting of the Bayonne Board of Education.

The Bayonne School District will not mandate that students get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Superintendent of Schools John Niesz. In August, the Hoboken Public School District announced that it would require eligible students to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.

However, in an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Niesz said the policy wasn’t set in stone for Bayonne.

“That could change if the governor mandates it,” Niesz said. “Everything constantly changes.”

With that, Bayonne joins Jersey City in declining to issue a vaccine mandate unless directed to by Gov. Phil Murphy. Murphy has issued an executive order requiring vaccines to be mandatory for school employees, or they will be regularly tested for the virus.

In Bayonne, if staff are not vaccinated they must take a COVID test twice a week. According to Niesz, most staff were fully vaccinated ahead of the district’s return from virtual instruction last May.

Masks are required by another Murphy executive order for all occupants in all school buildings. The district will provide masks if needed, and social distancing will be observed.

Vax to school

Recently, there has been a push to get students vaccinated ahead of the Sept. 8 return to school. On Aug. 24, the district held a Vax to School event at the city’s vaccine site at the Korpi Ice Rink at Bayonne High School.

The district will continue to cooperate with city officials to provide vaccine clinics to both the district and the community. Amid the vaccination push, summer programs have ceased.

The summer programs aimed to mend the learning gap caused by virtual instruction through Summer Learning Academy programs, Extended School Year programs, and other activities. These programs helped build a strong foundation for the transition back to full-day, in-person learning this year, Niesz said.

Breakfast and lunch

Breakfast and snacks will be eaten by students in the classroom, divided into cohort by classmates and table mates, according to the return plan. Masks can be removed to eat and must be replaced when finished.

Lunch will be on a normal schedule. In community schools, lunch will be divided into grade-level cohorts who will with their classes. If possible students may eat outside, in the gymnasium, or in classrooms. Students are also allowed to be picked up and taken to lunch by their parents and or guardians, but must be signed out of school and brought back after lunch.

In Bayonne High School, students can eat safely in a classroom if available, or in the cafeteria, the gymnasium or outside. Students can eat lunch off campus but will need signed parental permission to leave and return. Outdoor picnic tables will eventually be installed at all schools to facilitate outdoor dining. All students are discouraged from sharing meals.

COVID-19 protocols

Schools across the district are equipped to mitigate the spread of the virus, according to Niesz.

The district will continue to use plexiglass barriers on all desks and offices. Each building will maintain a designated isolation room. There are hand sanitizer pumps in every classroom and around the buildings. Routine announcements will made to remind everyone to wash hands or sanitize.

Air purifiers are in all rooms. MERV 8 filters are used in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Classroom doors will be kept open to encourage airflow. Classroom and office windows will be open, weather permitting.

Each building is equipped with an electrostatic sprayer to clean surfaces regularly and to sanitize every space in all schools and offices. Schools will be sanitized regularly.

“We are going to do the best we can with all the information that we have and all the protection and precautions that we can,” Niesz said.

No virtual option

Per the New Jersey Department of Education, there is no virtual instruction allowed for those who do not want to return to school. All students are expected to return to school in-person.

If the district is directed by the health department to quarantine a group of students, only then could it offer to teach those students remotely. But the entire district using virtual instruction again is not likely.

“I hope that doesn’t happen,” Niesz said. “I strongly believe we will be open, but there could be classrooms, or cohorts, or teams, or other groups of students that are out due to COVID. That certainly could happen.”

In that instance, the district is prepared for those students to use a remote plan. To prevent that, parents and or guardians should monitor their children for COVID symptoms and keep them home if sick, according to Niesz. Staff should also self-monitor for symptoms and stay home if sick.

All students and staff should continue to take the “At Home Symptom Health Questionnaire” that will be sent to the entire district every day. The district will continue to screen temperature checks at all entrances.

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.