NEWARK, NJ – As part of the Newark Public Schools District's planned April 12 return, the district will implement weekly testing for students, teachers and staff. 

The Newark Board of Education on Tuesday approved a resolution to enter into a partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks Inc., a Boston-based synthetic biology company, which will authorize a pooled testing program to be implemented in the schools upon return to in-person instruction and for the duration of the 2020-21 school year. 

“We are extremely excited to participate in Ginkgo Bioworks pooled COVID-19 testing for students because it will provide an added level of confidence to parents, students, staff and the community as we return to in-person instruction," Roger León, superintendent of Newark Schools, said. "We are poised to join school districts across the country in this important endeavor to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

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“The board is extremely excited about the partnership with Concentric by Gingko Bioworks who will provide onsite weekly COVID-19 testing of students,” Board President Josephine Garcia added. “The unanimous vote of the board on this resolution is indicative of our ongoing unified support of the Newark Reopening Plan, and we look forward to joining other school districts in this endeavor.”

The pilot program will launch with New Jersey Regional Day School, which returned to in-person learning earlier this month, while other district schools will begin testing when they resume hybrid in-person instruction in April, according to district officials. 

Pooled classroom testing, which combines swabs from all consenting individuals in a classroom and runs them as a single test, can potentially prove to be an effective method to test multiple individuals at once with fewer resources. 

Concentric by Ginkgo’s program provides all the training and testing materials necessary as well as lab and data processing services to provide affordable pooled testing. The program currently supports more than 350,000 students within schools in over 15 states.

Across the district, Newark schools are planned to engage in pooled testing as one of many strategies to form a multifaceted coronavirus response. Part of the district’s reopening plan also includes a four-step procedure which will include a symptoms screening; a temperature check; footwear sanitizing; and hand washing/sanitizing as well. 

As Newark schools prepare for the anticipated return, now just weeks away, Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon, noted that frequent testing was one of the union's conditions of re-entering the school buildings, safely.

"Even before the onset of the vaccine, we were talking about mandatory testing for students and staff," Abeigon told TAPinto Newark. "At least widespread testing is now available, and now it's going to be happening right in the building, so as far as the Newark Teachers Union is concerned, it's a complete success." 

Although the union president commended the district's move to set up staff and students for weekly testing to ensure a safe return, he said his team wants to look more into Ginkgo's track record with other schools.

The company launched its pooled testing program in January and previously announced it had been selected to provide testing within other districts including Baltimore Public Schools and Massachusetts K-12 schools through a program with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

“Using testing to curb potential outbreaks is an essential supporting strategy for an eventual return to normalcy,” Ginkgo Bioworks Chief Commercial Officer Matthew McKnight said. “Pooled testing is a key tool that schools can leverage to give students, teachers and their families the peace of mind that they can return to in-person learning safely, and we’re proud to work with Newark Public Schools to support that within their community.”