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A school building has a blue sign on the top left corner that reads North Star in white lettering with a white star shape between the two words.

David Handschuh for Chalkbeat

Newark’s two largest charter school networks will close amid coronavirus concerns

UPDATE: Newark’s two largest charter school networks — North Star Academy and KIPP — will temporarily close their schools beginning next week due to coronavirus concerns, the networks said Friday.

Both networks, which collectively educate more than 10,000 Newark students, said that no one in their schools tested positive for the virus, which causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19. Newark’s traditional public schools remained open as of Friday, though Gov. Phil Murphy said in a press conference that he expected it would be a “matter of days” before all New Jersey school districts decide to close.

North Star Academy’s 14 schools will keep students at home until at least April 13, the network said. KIPP’s 11 Newark schools will remain closed at least through March 27; all of KIPP’s extracurricular activities, athletic practices and competitions, and weekend events are also cancelled. 

“Although we still have no known positive cases in our schools or offices, we want to ensure that we are helping to slow the spread of the virus by closing our schools and transitioning to remote student learning,” said Barbara Martinez, spokeswoman for Uncommon Schools, the multi-state charter school network that includes North Star Academy.

All schools in the Uncommon network, which enroll about 20,000 students across several states, will close for at least two weeks.

More than a third of Newark public school students attend charter schools, which are independently operated and will each decide whether to cancel classes. As the city’s two largest charter operators, KIPP and North Star educate about half of Newark’s charter school students.

The only other Newark charter school to temporarily close amid coronavirus fears is People’s Prep, a small high school.

Across New Jersey, 29 people have tested positive for the virus, which causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19. One person with the virus has died. The state has not ordered schools to shut down, but some local officials have begun closing schools, including in Bergen County and Jersey City.

Nationwide, a growing number of school districts and entire states — including Michigan and Ohio — are temporarily closing their schools in order to reduce the spread of the virus. School closures pose a number of major challenges for districts and families, such as the need for working parents to quickly find childcare and for schools to find alternative ways to serve free meals to eligible students.

Uncommon plans to give work packets to students in kindergarten through eighth-grade to complete at home during the school closures. High school students will work online, the network said. It was not immediately clear how the school would reach students who lack computers or internet access at home.

“We are committed to providing world-class instruction to our students, no matter the circumstances,” said Julie Jackson and Michael Ambriz, Uncommon’s president and chief of operations, in an email to staff members Thursday evening. The pair sent a follow-up email Friday morning announcing the closures.

Uncommon operates 54 schools located in Newark and Camden; Boston; and New York City, Rochester, and Troy, New York. The network will post its remote learning materials online so other schools can use them, Martinez said. 

KIPP did not immediately share its plans for how students will learn from home during the closures. A letter sent to families in Camden, where KIPP schools are also closing, said students received homework packets to complete while schools are closed.