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Jersey City Public Schools Welcome Back Younger Students After 14-Month Shutdown

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Jersey City Public Schools welcomed back thousands of students to partial in-person learning on Thursday.

But the reunion came after the district went back and forth on its reopening plan, frustrating parents and local leaders, CBS2's John Dias reported.

"It's my first day of school today and I'm happy," Khyshon Gaskin said.

He may not be able jump as high as Spider-Man, who was on his mask, but the 7-year-old does have a super power: perseverance to learn. He is thrilled to be back in school.

"I miss school," Khyshon said.


It was a long-awaited phased-in return to the classroom for thousand of students in Jersey City. While fourth through 12th graders return on May 10, pre-K through third grade in the cohort A group started Thursday, but only half days for now and it's a hybrid model.

So most will still be learning from home.

"Step towards a normal," librarian Melissa Levis said.

At Chaplain Charles J. Watters School, welcome back messages are all over. One-third of its students chose to come back, but by September Rosalyn Barnes, the school's principal, said she hopes, "We will have gained the confidence of parents and the students, because we certainly have put safety first."


Before entering classrooms, everyone must complete health screenings, get temperature checks, and even sanitize the bottom of their shoes. Masks are mandatory and desks have plastic shields.

Even though the Centers for Disease Control now recommends desk be spaced out by three feet, school officials say most desks within the district will be spaced out by six feet, Dias reported.

The opening comes after confusion. Two weeks ago, parents thought kids could go back, but suddenly received a robocall from Superintendent Franklin Walker, saying the district could not open. He added the decision at the time was made because of a teacher shortage and a high number of COVID-19 cases in the county. That prompted pressure from Mayor Steven Fulop and Gov. Phil Murphy.

On Thursday, the superintendent defended the delay.

"Under those circumstances, it means we have to develop some patience," Walker said. "I lead with students as my North Star. Our main concern is to make sure that children are safe."

Safe, and happy to be back in the classroom.

School officials said they may ease some of the restrictions in the future if they see they're not needed.

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