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Newark task force offers dozens of recommendations for reopening schools safely

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A task force presented the Newark school district with nearly 70 recommendations to consider as it plans for next school year.

David Handschuh for Chalkbeat

The Newark school district faces a long to-do list in order to safely reopen schools this fall, according to a new report from the district’s reopening task force.

The report includes nearly 70 recommendations related to school operations, teaching, remote learning, and ways to support staff members and students, according to a six-page executive summary obtained by Chalkbeat that is dated June 15. It’s unclear whether a full report is forthcoming. 

The state is also expected to issue reopening guidelines, which will inform the district’s plans along with the task force’s recommendations.

Superintendent Roger León established the task force last month to provide suggestions for reopening school buildings, which have been shuttered since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 25-member group includes district officials, principals and teachers, student and parent representatives, and the presidents of the Newark teachers and principals unions.

“The overarching goal was to provide recommendations that support the community in feeling safe about returning to school,” the executive summary says.

The recommendations provide few details about what schools could look like in the fall and whether classes will take place in person, virtually, or a mix of both. Instead, they offer a long checklist of items for the district to consider and flesh out.

For instance, the district should come up with a transportation plan that meets health guidelines for reducing infections. It should provide mental health services to students, while making sure that employee “workstations meet social distancing recommendations.” It should create individual learning goals for students based on assessments of how much they advanced or regressed during home learning. And assuming that some online learning will continue, it should ensure that all students have access to computers and the internet and that teachers receive training in online platforms.

The district has already been contemplating steps it may need to take this fall to keep students and employees safe amid the ongoing pandemic. León has said face coverings and temperature checks will be required at school buildings, and surveys the district sent out suggested that students may need to come to school in shifts or on separate days in order to allow for social distancing inside classrooms.

Meanwhile, the district is gearing up for virtual summer school, which begins July 6. And it is still awaiting the state education department’s reopening guidance.

“Whatever it is, I think people want to hear it sooner than later so they can appropriately plan,” state Sen. Teresa Ruiz told the education commissioner at a committee meeting last week, according to a report by NJ Spotlight

Read the Newark reopening task force’s recommendations here.

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