Newark's school board election will be delayed until May 12 and will be a vote-by-mail-only election in an effort to protect voters and ensure fairness to candidates during this unprecedented public health crisis, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday.

Newark's school board election was initially scheduled for April 21, but the continuing spread of the coronavirus in New Jersey prompted the governor to sign an Executive Order delaying the election for all districts that hold it in April. Many school districts several years ago moved their elections to November.

“As the coronavirus outbreak continues to unfold, we must take aggressive and swift action to help mitigate further spread and flatten the curve,” Murphy said. “My top priority is to keep New Jerseyans healthy and safe during this pandemic, and these new measures will ensure that all New Jersey voters are able to safely exercise their right to vote and be engaged in our democracy.”

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The number of coronavirus cases continues to grow in New Jersey and the United States. The state today reported 742 positive cases with 9 deaths. Essex County has the third most cases behind Bergen and Middlesex counties with 63 positive cases. One man from Newark in his early 40s became the first fatal victim Wednesday. Newark has 13 positive cases as of Wednesday.

Murphy has not yet made a decision about the June 2 primary election, in which Republicans and Democrats in New Jersey will go to the polls to select their party's nominees for president as well as federal, state and local candidates. Newark does not have any local candidates on the ballot in June.

Election rules have been modified during prior emergencies, including by Gov. Tom Kean in 1982 during a severe winter storm and by the Christie Administration in 2012 in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

Ryan Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, praised the governor for "responding nimbly" to the crisis caused by the coronavirus.

"While our communities are being advised to avoid being around groups of people, having the ability to vote without showing up at a polling place, and not placing an additional economic burden on people, are crucial," Haygood said. "Our democracy must remain open for business during this public health crisis. In fact, it is more important than ever that people have a say in who represents and leads them during these trying times.”

In addition to electing three school board members, voters in Newark will also be asked to approve a 2% increase in the tax levy on the district’s budget for the ensuing 2020-21 school year, or $138,314,942.

On the Moving Newark Schools Forward slate, backed by the mayor, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. and the city's charter school sector, incumbents Flohisha Johnson, Board of Education President Josephine Garcia and newcomer Hasani Council are vying for the three seats as a team. 

Council was added to the Moving Newark Schools Forward ticket after board member Reginald Bledsoe opted not to seek reelection. Council is the son of South Ward Democratic Chairman Patrick Council and the legislative aide to South Ward Councilman John James.

The slate’s opposing school board candidates — Sheila Montague, Phil Wilson and Ronnie Kellam — are all running independently.

Last week, several of the candidates met at a forum sponsored by the Newark branch of the NAACP. Because of concerns about the coronavirus, the forum at Bethany Baptist Church was closed to the public and Livestreamed.

Watch the forum.