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Road To Reopening: Newark Public Schools Welcome Students Back For In-Person Classes

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- For the first time in more than a year, Newark schools welcomed students back to classrooms.

CBS2's John Dias has more on the COVID safety measures in place to keep students and staff safe.

After more than a year of remote learning. all Newark public schools started in-person learning Monday.

So how did students rate their first day back at in-person learning?

"Good," said one.

"Good," said another.

"Terrible," said one kindergartener. "Because the kids was, like, getting up from the seats, not distancing, and, like, one was not putting their mask up and all that stuff.

Schools will operate on a hybrid model, with students spending two days in the classroom.

Almost 500 students at First Avenue school signed up. That's about half the enrollment. Most are looking to jump right into it.

"I'm going to pay attention, and do my homework," said second grader Geomaira Fiallos.

"I'd rather be at school to see my friends," said Myle Granda.

COVID VACCINE

Entering the schools is a four step process, including temperature checks, and sanitizing not just hands, but the bottom of shoes with a so-called foot-washing station.

"Step into a solution on a mop, make sure we are taking all the germs off the bottom of shoes," said Principal Rosa Branco.

The district was supposed to open in mid-January.

"Realities of numbers and positivity rate, didn't make it the most safe experience," said Newark Superintendent of Schools Roger Leon.

And the teachers union said schools weren't properly stocked.

"The PPE wasn't in, although it had been ordered," said John Abeigon, president of the Newark teachers union. The union is now giving the regulations a stamp of approval.

The regulations include:

  • All students and staff must wear face masks at all times
  • Practice social distancing
  • Water fountains are turned off
  • Desks are spaced out six feet apart, with three-sided clear partitions

Although the CDC only recommends three feet between desks, the classrooms in Newark are large enough to accommodate the six foot distance.

"We love the CDC, and we trust the CDC, but CDC is not in a schoolroom. We will try the six feet first," Abeigon said.

He says this is a trial run for what's expected to be a full return in September.

The superintendent says they may roll back some of the restrictions if they feel it is necessary.

School administrators say they learned from large cities like New York, and mirrored its regulation.

Mayor Ras Baraka says 2,000 school staff have received at least the first shot of a COVID vaccine.

Fewer than 40% of parents decided to send their kids back to school.

"They have air filters in every room, the main office, the gym... They have a separate room for kids who may have a fever, and a separate room for kids who they have identified as COVID-positive," said Baraka.

In Essex County, 334 new COVID cases have been reported, and nearly 158,000 people are vaccinated.

Meanwhile, students in Westchester County's largest school district also return to in-person learning Monday.

After months of remote classes, students in Yonkers also began a four-day in-person school week. Parents and students can still opt for fully remote learning, but have the option to return to the classroom.

Also Monday, new guidelines go into effect in New York City to determine when schools should close because of coronavirus cases. Schools will only close if four or more unrelated cases can be tracked back to the school.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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