WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Public Schools district—which is in the midst of exploring options in the event that the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) orders schools to close for an extended period of time to slow the spread of Coronavirus disease COVID-19—is also currently refuting unfounded rumors about the disease that caused the high school to evacuate on Monday afternoon.

Although students confirmed that West Orange High School (WOHS) did briefly evacuate as a result of rumors that were circulating about confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the students, Superintendent Dr. J. Scott Cascone immediately took to social media in an effort to dispel the rumors, stating that they were “categorically false” and calling it “a demonstration of irresponsibility on the part of the individuals who started them.”

“There are no confirmed cases of Coronavirus in our school system or in our community at this time to the best of our knowledge,” he said in a video message. “I would like to reiterate to our community that if, in fact, we became aware of this, you would hear from me directly and you would hear from me in as expedient of a manner as possible.

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“That being said, if you feel you have credible information, certainly you should feel free to reach out to either my office or the building principal and do so in a discreet manner and in a confidential manner as not to create undue public alarm in the event that it turns out to be false like this rumor was.”

Serena Ceaser, a WOHS senior who was in lunch when the rumors began to reach her ears, said she was hearing “different rumors and rude comments about students having the Coronavirus.” Shortly after lunch, she said, an alarm went off to indicate that students should evacuate the school in the same way that they would for a fire drill.

“I didn’t hear from the teachers or principal about what to do,” said Ceaser, who is refusing to “give into the panic” surrounding the spread of the virus but also acknowledged the need for people to be cautious and to avoid speaking negatively about others. “If schools were to close because of the Corona cases, I do think it would add fuel to the fire and make all students worried if the disease is not definitely the cause of the sickness. Once again, I do think health is very important, so if changes were made, I would be all for it.”

For the first time ever, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has informed all districts that 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. 

Cascone, who has been communicating regularly with other Essex County superintendents, expressed that although other districts have scheduled professional development days in the coming week “to plan for teleschooling,” it is “clear that they do not know exactly that for which they are planning.”

Over the weekend, he announced his intention to meet on Monday morning with the district’s technology integration specialists in order to explore “a number of different options.”

“As we continue to focus the majority of our efforts with regard to COVID-19 on education and prevention, the conversation has shifted in the last several days to how school districts would continue to operate virtually in the event of extended school closings,” he said in a letter to the community. “Unfortunately, the [NJDOE] has yet to provide guidance, direction, or criteria relative to how this should and needs to occur…

“Please rest assured, however, that our approach will take into consideration that which is in the best interest of our students. Additional information in this regard will be shared in the upcoming days.”

As information continues to unfold, Cascone reaffirmed that the West Orange district continues to ensure that members of the buildings and grounds department are doing “all they can to sanitize the buildings adequately on a nightly basis.” The superintendent recently approved an additional hour of overtime for all nighttime custodians so that all desktops will be cleaned and sanitized prior to the start of each school day.

“The district has invested in a host and large volume of supplies including additional hand sanitizer dispensers, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes,” he said. “If there is a concern that a student might be carrying the virus, our school nurses will be equipped with the necessary equipment to treat quarantined students.”

West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi also took the opportunity to reiterate that the public perception of the threat “can easily be overshadowed by the fear of the unknown and misinformation.” He stated that the overall situation “is best left to the advice of experts in the field who are better-suited to guide us.”

He urged community members to treat all precautions—such as washing their hands and avoiding handshakes—“with a heightened sense of awareness,” but encouraged the public to continue enjoying their lives.

Parisi specifically informed the community that the annual West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be held on Sunday as scheduled, and said he looks forward to “seeing the many familiar faces at the parade as planned.”

CLICK HERE to read a statement from the township regarding the virus and what is being done to “minimize any threats to public safety” in West Orange.

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Phil Murphy declared a State of Emergency and a Public Health Emergency in an effort to ramp up New Jersey’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. According to Murphy, this declaration allows state agencies and departments to utilize state resources to assist affected communities responding to and recovering from COVID-19 cases.

According to the NJDOH, 45 people had been tested for coronavirus in New Jersey as of Monday, with 35 of those coming back as negative and 10 being presumed positive. An additional 24 New Jersey residents are currently under investigation as potentially being infected with the virus that has spread across the globe.

CLICK HERE to learn more.