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Coronavirus Updates: Newark school board moves to online-only meetings

Newark Superintendent Roger León and board members discuss agenda items at a meeting.
Devna Bose/Chalkbeat
N.J. will scrap state tests this year following coronavirus disruptions (March 24)

New Jersey students will skip annual state tests this year, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday, saying the state has asked the federal government for permission to scrap this year’s mandatory tests after the coronavirus pandemic forced schools statewide to shut their doors.

The U.S. Education Department approved New Jersey’s request to cancel the tests, the state said in a later update.

“With students at home, and not in their regular classrooms, it is simply not feasible for us to be able to move forward with testing in any meaningful way,” Murphy said on Twitter.

The likelihood of prolonged school closures means students may not be back in their classrooms by late April when the annual tests in English, math, and science were set to begin. Even if in-person classes resume by then, students still would have missed weeks of classroom instruction, which the state teachers union and others said was reason enough to call off the tests.

Federal law requires states to test students annually in grades three to eight and at least once in high school. Last week, the Trump administration said states impacted by the coronavirus outbreak could cancel this year’s tests, which several states have already done.

Murphy said the cancelation of this year’s tests “will not impact the graduation requirements of any student.”

Read more here.

Newark school board moves to online-only meetings (March 23)

As Newark schools move to remote learning due to the new coronavirus, now the Newark school board is going remote, too.

The Newark Board of Education’s monthly regular board meeting will be held online at 4 p.m. Thursday, according to the district’s website. The board’s annual budget meeting will also take place online Thursday, at 5 p.m.

The board meeting will mark the first time that Newark’s school board and Superintendent Roger León publicly address the massive disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced schools in Newark and statewide to close and shift learning to students’ homes. The district has moved quickly to respond to the virus by creating take-home learning packets and distributing grab-and-go meals, but León has not spoken publicly about his long-term plans in case schools must remain closed for an extended period — a possibility that appears increasingly likely.

At Thursday’s budget meeting, officials will discuss the district’s spending plans for the upcoming school year. One question is whether the forced school closures will affect the district’s finances, forcing any changes to the planned budget.

Members of the public can find links to join the virtual meetings by video or phone, and a sign-up form to make public comments, on the district website. It’s unclear how public comments will work virtually. The district did not immediately respond to questions.

Last week’s monthly business meeting was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns, and next month’s school board elections — when voters were scheduled to choose three board members and decide whether to approve next year’s budget — has been postponed until May.

Newark schools will stay closed longer as N.J. orders residents to stay home amid coronavirus (March 21)

Newark will keep its schools closed longer than initially expected as New Jersey ratchets up its efforts to contain the new coronavirus.

The district now says schools will “operate virtually until further notice,” a change from its previous message that schools would reopen March 30.

On Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered residents to stay home and non-essential businesses to shutter, adding that the restrictions could last “weeks to months.” The executive order says schools must remain closed while the order is in effect.

“We haven’t made the final call yet” about when to reopen schools, Murphy said during a Saturday news conference. “But the chances are overwhelming we’re not going back to school [on March 30].”

Read more here.

Newark students will get laptops, free internet during school closure (March 20)

As Newark schools continue educating students remotely, efforts are underway to make sure students have the technology they need to learn from home.

Individual schools have been loaning Chromebook laptops to students, and the district will provide additional laptops this week, Mayor Ras Baraka said during a daily news briefing. A recent survey by the district found that 7,000 Newark students lack internet-equipped devices, the mayor said.

Meanwhile, efforts are also underway to provide free internet access to families who need it.

Read more here.

Newark school board election is postponed (March 19)

Newark’s school board election will be postponed until May and all voting will be conducted by mail as the state ramps up restrictions intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

All school board elections scheduled for April 21 will now happen May 12, and voting will take place exclusively by mail, according to an executive order that Gov. Phil Murphy signed Thursday. Registered voters will automatically receive mail-in ballots, officials said.

“There is no greater right in a democracy than the right to vote,” Murphy said. “But given the current emergency, we want to make sure that everyone is safe.”

In Newark, candidates are vying for three open seats on the nine-member board. Voters will also decide whether to approve a tax increase to help fund the city’s schools.

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting elections across the country, with several states postponing their presidential election primaries. In New Jersey, where 742 people have tested positive for the virus and nine have died as of Thursday, the state has not yet made changes to the June 2 primary elections, Murphy said.

The election changes follow a number of other strict measures in Newark and statewide aimed at reducing social interactions and the virus’ spread. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka imposed an 8 p.m. curfew beginning Wednesday and ordered most non-essential businesses to close indefinitely, while schools in Newark and statewide remain temporarily shut down.

Six candidates are running in Newark’s board race. They include the incumbents Flohisha Johnson and Josephine Garcia, along with newcomer Hasani Council, who are running together on the Moving Newark Schools Forward slate that is backed by political leaders and charter school advocates. Three additional candidates are running independently: Ronnie Kellam, Sheila Montague, and Phil Wilson.

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