WEST ESSEX AREA, NJ — The Caldwell-West Caldwell and West Essex Regional school districts have joined the many New Jersey school systems that are adjusting their schools calendars over the next week to accommodate professional development workshops needed to prepare educators to teach from home in the event that schools are ordered to close for an extended period of time.

In an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has informed all districts that for the first time ever, they will be allowed to utilize online learning in order to satisfy the required 180 days of school in the event that the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) orders them to close.

In response to this announcement, West Essex Regional School District has scheduled an early dismissal for Thursday, March 12, and Caldwell-West Caldwell Public Schools will do the same on Friday, March 13 so that both districts can conduct additional preparations for potential school closures.

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“In order to properly prepare for the potential of a school health-related closure, our district has started planning,” said Damion Macioci, West Essex Superintendent of Schools. “Providing our staff with time to prepare is essential to this process…West Essex staff will receive important professional development hours to work on school preparedness plans.”

West Essex will require all students to leave their school campus at 12:17 p.m. on Thursday and will resume after-school activities as scheduled at 4 p.m.

All Caldwell-West Caldwell schools will follow their regular early-dismissal schedules, which can be found HERE. Caldwell-West Caldwell Superintendent of Schools James Heinegg also shared these recommendations from both local and national health officials.

“School calendar changes are taken seriously and can pose logistical challenges; however, planning and preparation for the educational services of our students is extremely important,” said Macioci. “The better our staff is equipped and prepared, the more effectively we can serve our students while keeping the health and safety of our school community at the forefront.”

The NJDOH and the NJDOE have advised that all school districts “should be making plans for what to do if there are recommendations for closing schools or cancelling events,” as there is a possibility that all New Jersey districts may be asked to close either preemptively or reactively as a result of the spreading of COVID-19.

Several Essex County school districts—including Livingston Public Schools, Millburn Township Public Schools, West Orange Public Schools, Montclair Public SchoolsSouth Orange-Maplewood School District, Cedar Grove Schools, Verona Public Schools and Nutley Public Schools—are taking similar measures to ensure that their educators are prepared for this eventuality while others continue to discuss their options. (Click on the links for local coverage from each district.)

After COVID-19 claimed its first New Jersey victim on Tuesday, multiple New Jersey colleges, including nearby campuses such as Rutgers University Newark, Seton Hall, Kean, Montclair State, NJIT and more, have also announced that they will move all course instruction online for the remainder of the spring semester.

State officials have confirmed the death of a 69-year-old man from Bergen County, and the number of presumed positive cases in the state has reached 15, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. Additionally, more than 30 individuals were under investigation as of Tuesday afternoon.

According to NJDOH officials, the results of investigations that have been announced thus far are based on the state lab, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has yet to further validate the cases.

“We are sad to report the first death in a case of COVID-19 in New Jersey," said Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver in a joint statement. "Our prayers are with the family during this difficult time. We remain vigilant to doing all we can—across all levels of government—to protect the people of New Jersey.”

As presumed positive cases mount statewide, Murphy announced on Tuesday that his administration would look to support consumer access to coronavirus testing—including waiving consumer cost sharing for all medically necessary coronavirus testing. The waiver includes services related to the emergency room, urgent care and office visits related to COVID-19 testing for the state’s individual, small and large group markets.

“As we continue to strengthen our efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we must ensure that our residents are focused on their health and not on the cost of medically necessary testing,” said Murphy. “These actions bolster our state’s coordinated response and preparedness efforts by eliminating affordability concerns for New Jerseyans.”

There have been no confirmed cases in Essex County. Of the additional four cases announced on Tuesday, two are individuals from Bergen County and two are from Burlington County.

The other presumed positive cases announced in New Jersey thus far are as follows: 

  • A 61 year old from Cherry Hill (Camden County)
  • An 18 year old from Clifton (Passaic County)
  • A 48 year old from Berkeley Heights (Union County)
  • A 27-year-old man from Little Silver (Monmouth County)
  • An 83-year-old woman from Hazlet (Monmouth County)
  • A 30 year old from Teaneck (Bergen County) 
  • A 70-year-old male healthcare worker from Teaneck (Bergen County)
  • A 32-year-old man from West New York (Hudson County)
  • A 32-year-old Fort Lee man (Bergen County)
  • A 55-year-old Englewood man (Bergen County)
  • An Englewood woman in her 30’s (Bergen County)