June 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Delta Variant Looms as Schools Open

With the start of the school year fast approaching, schools are gearing up for another year with COVID-19 still looming large. As the Delta COVID-19 variant rages on, combined with the rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases in children under 12 who still remain ineligible to receive the vaccination, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order (EO) 251 on August 6, mandating that masks be worn indoors at all public, private and parochial preschool, elementary and secondary school buildings with limited exceptions. On Monday, Governor Murphy also announced that all teachers and state employees will be required to get vaccinated.

With that in mind, local school administrators have been working diligently to establish and update their COVID-19 policies and protocols for the upcoming school year. The policies are largely informed by CDC guidelines, Governor Murphy’s mandate, and the desire to keep the communities safe and healthy while attempting to return to and maintain a relatively normal school year.

Over at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Head of School Rabbi Eliezer Rubin said, “We are going to follow the Governor’s executive order with all diligence to make sure that, not only are we in compliance with the government expectations, but also as a way of keeping the community safe.”

“What’s informing the policies is to reclaim normalcy and consistency while managing the safety and welfare of our community. Using those guiding principles we hope to implement school programming which will allow for a real sense of engagement without compromising the health of the students and teachers of our community.” Utilizing its in-house population surveillance screening spearheaded by RKYHS’s Science Department Chair and virologist, Dr. Steven Stein, the school feels it is able to avoid quarantines.

“We are masking…the law still says masks,” JEC Executive Director Steven Karp said. In addition to abiding by all CDC and government guidelines, the school will have two full time nurses on staff in addition to ordering more air purifiers. The school also intends to take full advantage of their tents. “We will have outdoor spaces again in order to be outside as much as possible, as long as the weather cooperates. We are going to keep track, as far as cohorts are concerned…the same as last year.”

Schools will not require that masks be worn during lunch, physical activities or outdoors.

Most area schools already mandated that all their faculty and staff be vaccinated, well before Governor Murphy announced that the State of New Jersey is mandating teachers and faculty be fully vaccinated. However, while most of the local yeshivas are making it a requirement for their own personnel, Governor Murphy said teachers can opt out of getting the vaccine if they get tested 1-2 times per week. In addition, teachers are also required to get the flu vaccine by November 1, unless they have a medical exemption

In order to play organized team sports, students will need to be vaccinated. This means that there will likely be no school team sports for sixth graders, at least at this point in the year. Seventh graders and up will be allowed to participate as long as they are fully vaccinated. Many schools are also planning on having gym class outside as much as possible, particularly as far as non-vaccinated students are concerned.

Additionally students will also need to be vaccinated in order to participate in certain extra and co-curricular activities. Many schools hold retreats and shabbatons during the school year and, generally speaking, they will not allow unvaccinated students to participate as of this point in the year.

While schools will not require its students to wear masks during lunch, some schools are requiring their non-vaccinated students to eat lunch outdoors or in specially designated indoor areas.

Unvaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 are required to quarantine in accordance with local guidelines. That quarantine period is expected to last seven days and those students will require a negative COVID-19 test in order to return to school.

For those who have traveled (or intend to), there is currently no enforced quarantine. However, the CDC and the State of New Jersey recommend a seven-day quarantine following travel outside of the state. Families are being advised to take measures to minimize risk of exposure in terms of selecting their mode of travel (car or airplane) and to try and avoid destinations with higher COVID-19 rates or densely packed venues which pose a higher risk.

The situation remains fluid and schools will change and update their policies accordingly throughout the year.

By Ronit Mershon

 

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