Updated 1 p.m., March 14, 2020

NEWARK, NJ — More than 36,000 Newark school children will stay home until at least March 30, the district announced late Friday, the same day the state said it would be working toward mandatory school closures across the state amid growing fear surrounding the spread of the coronavirus. 

"Out of an abundance of caution given recent announcements, I have made the decision in coordination with the Mayor and the great city of Newark to close schools and central office beginning on Monday, March 16, 2020," Newark Schools Superintdent Roger Leon said in an email sent to city leaders.

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Essential staff will be required to report to work and they will be notified accordingly, Leon said. Schools and central office will tentatively reopen on March 30, 2020. 

The call comes several hours following the decisions of the city’s two largest charter school networks, North Star Academy and KIPP, to educate their more than 10,000 students via remote learning until April 12. North Star was at the center of a false reporting rumor earlier this week that pushed the school’s parent network, Uncommon Schools, to quell anxieties as districts shutter across New Jersey. 

“Although we still have no known positive cases in our schools or offices, we are committed to the safety of our students, families, staff, and community. Our academic focus for students will continue and transition to remote learning and work,” said Barbara Martinez, spokeswoman for Uncommon Schools. 

Gov. Phil Murphy addressed the public during the afternoon to confirm that the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the state had jumped from 29 to 50. So far, there are no known cases in Newark. 

State-mandated school closures are inevitable, according to Murphy, but must be done “responsibly” as more than 259,000 students lack the access to the technology necessary to make remote learning a reality. 

Lamont Repollet, Commissioner for the Department of Education, said that 354 school districts had decided to close in New Jersey as of Friday afternoon — including four with confirmed exposure to COVID-19 and one presumed positive case.

“We understand the significant impact that COVID-19 has on our school communities and we will continue to support our districts and communities as we combat the spread of the virus and strive to keep our families and our students safe," Repollet said.

Mayor Ras Baraka said he expects children to be supervised and indoors, focusing on their school work while schools are closed.

"This is not an impromptu vacation," Baraka said. "Let’s take this time for our children to complete the work packets given by the schools, keep our community safe, and if anyone in your home feels sick, then either stay in the house, or seek medical attention by a healthcare provider."

In Newark, the district’s plans for remote learning via physical take-home packets are complicated by a digital divide: more than 28 percent of households in the city lacked broadband internet between 2014-18, according to the U.S. Census. 

The city-based nonprofit Project Ready donated 104 WiFi hotspots to Hawthorne Avenue School so students can access the internet to continue learning. Some Internet providers are offering two months free to new Internet Essentials customers in response to recent and anticipated emergency measures associated with the coronavirus.

Neither NPS nor the charter schools have provided comment on how they will monitor their learn-at-home plans given the socioeconomic limitations of many families. 

More than 29,000 students rely on the schools’ free and reduced lunch program, according to Newark Public Schools, and for many, the meals they receive in school are the first they receive. The district will continue to provide breakfast at 16 locations throughout all wards. 

Breakfast and lunch will be available Monday through Friday from 9:30 am – 11:30 am for all students at the following locations:

School  Address
Central Ward Locations   
Central High School  246 18th Avenue
Dr. E. Alma Flagg  150 3rd Street
Quitman Street School  21 Quitman Street
East Ward Locations  
East Side High School  238 Van Buren Street
Hawkins Street School  8 Hawkins Street
South Street School  44 Hermon Street
North Ward Locations  
First Avenue School  214 First Avenue
McKinley Elementary School  1 Colonnade Place
Park Elementary School  120 Manchester Place
Rafael Hernandez Elementary School  345 Broadway
South Ward Locations  
Belmont Runyon School  1 Belmont Runyon Way
George Washington Carver School  333 Clinton Place
Weequahic High School  279 Chancellor Avenue
West Ward Locations  
Mount Vernon School  142 Mount Vernon Place
Speedway Avenue  701 South Orange Avenue
Thirteenth Avenue School  359 13th Avenue