COVID polices, increased security in focus for Tri-State back to school

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Tuesday, September 6, 2022
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Newark public schools will not lift the requirement for students and teachers to wear masks when classes begin Monday. Toni Yates has the story

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Back-to-school excitement was in the air as students across the country returned for the first day of classes on Tuesday.

COVID restrictions and school security were at top of mind as school administrators hope for as close to a "normal" academic year as possible.

"It was hard to go to sleep because I was so excited to come to school the next day," 8th grader Mazyck Thomas said. "I get to socialize with everyone, and I get to make a lot of new friends."

The first-day jitters are not just for students, but their parents as well, as they send their children off.

"My job, I work from home some days, so I really got to stay home with them," one mom said.

The largest school district in New Jersey welcomed students back with some COVID protocols still in place, at least for now.

About 38,000 students are walking the halls in the Newark Public School District, a record number for the district.

"The first day, is undeniably, the most important day of the year for students, their families, and staff," Newark Superintendent Roger Leon said. "The attendance on the first day of school is just one way we ensure the school year gets off to a great start. We are extremely excited about the expansion of grades across elementary schools to the 8th grade, growing grades at the new high schools, and opening new Prekindergarten seats throughout the city."

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And with so many students entering classrooms, Newark public school officials decided to keep masking requirements.

"I think its good that they stay with the masks on and protect themselves and wash their hands as much as possible," one parent said.

Most school districts across the state and country have loosened COVID restrictions, but Newark public schools will be requiring everyone to mask up.

Some teachers and parents have expressed frustration with the policy, but it has the backing of the Newark Teacher's Union.

"If you're upset that your child has to wear the mask in the classroom, get them vaccinated," Newark Teacher Union President John Abeigon said. "The sooner we have a higher number of kids vaccinated, the sooner those masks can come down."

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Newark school officials will be taking a look at the policy later this fall to determine whether or not they can loosen the restriction.

For the 25,000 students in Yonkers, most of the COVID-related restrictions have been dropped for the first time since 2019.

"I'm nervous, excited," parent Deandra Acheampong said. "You know, stressed. Traffic was intense, but we're here, we made it."

Back-to-School excitement, and nerves in Yonkers

Masks are optional, and anyone exposed to the virus will no longer have to quarantine. But those who test positive for the virus still have to isolate for at least five days.

"It's never going to be normal, but it's something that we'll have to live with, honestly," parent Felton Hebron said. "The kids, they're just geared up for the year."

Yonkers School Superintendent Edwin Quezada rode a bus to school Tuesday morning and toured classrooms with Mayor Mike Spano.

Quezada said while the focus is certainly on education, he said school security has been increased in light of the increase of mass shootings like the one at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

"We have retrofitted many buildings with new technology," he said. "We added 12 additional safety officers to our schools. The police department is facilitating training. A lot in terms of safety."

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