Dickinson High School Jersey City 16x9
Dickinson High School Jersey City

If New York City’s public schools, which serve over a million children, have a five-day post-Covid quarantine period as recommended by the CDC, why do Jersey City students have to isolate for 10 days under similar conditions?

This is the question thousands of Jersey City parents would like answered.

“I just don’t buy it … Newark public schools has figured out how to do it; Manhattan has figured out how to do it … These kids have missed so much school in the past three years …” said parent and registered nurse Lucy Dixon.

“It needs to be noted that the Board of Ed is not following what is recommended by pediatricians for children, she added.

Dixon was referring to the fact that, in addition to the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommended a five-day quarantine.

Dixon is hardly alone. The mother of two children in Jersey City’s school system, she said she knows of dozens of parents equally as opposed to and befuddled by the Board’s policy as she.

Melie Purdon’s fifth grader, Nora, who attends P.S. 28 in the Heights, was required to quarantine for two consecutive 10-day periods in May — during preparation for state exams.

The first time resulted from Nora’s having come in close contact early in the month with a classmate who tested positive. Because Nora’s classes were still being conducted in person, Purdon said there was “no plan for her to have any work or anything, and it’s two weeks of New Jersey standardized testing. She was very bored.”

It was during this period that other students in Nora’s class contracted Covid. That led to the entire class’s going remote, which provided Nora with structure and education during the latter half of May but translated to her being absent from campus 16 out days of 21 days that month.

“We’re in May 2022. How can we still be here? … It’s like we’ve learned nothing. What was the point of vaccinating the kids?” Purdon said.

To address parents’ confusion and concerns, The Jersey City Times emailed acting schools superintendent Norma Fernandez seeking the district’s rationale for its anomalous quarantine policy.

“We had discussed decreasing the isolation period, but we are experiencing a surge in the number of individuals testing positive. The guidance recommends five days with stipulations we cannot fulfill. For example, students returning after five days would need to eat lunch in isolation and could not participate in extracurricular activities such as CASPER or athletics,” Fernandez replied.

Fernandez told the Times she meets regularly with her counterparts from the region, “but our enrollment is much higher and does not allow as much flexibility.”

New York City enrolls over 1 million children in its public schools (which is 40 times that of Jersey City). Newark, which also follows the five-day isolation period recommended by the New Jersey Department of Health, has 35,000 students compared to Jersey City’s 27,000.

Numerous parents also point out another epidemic they say the city’s insistence on a longer quarantine has produced: an epidemic of dishonesty.

Said one parent, “Stacy,” who wished to remain anonymous, “I’d rather have a five-day thing and a mask mandate than 10 days and optional masks. It encourages honesty among parents of the student body.”

Not everyone can work from home, Stacy said, leading lots of parents to say, “Go take some Tylenol, [go to school], you’re fine.’”

Nurse Lucy Dixon has a similar hunch though her critique has more to do with public health than the disintegration of our society’s morals. Pointing out that the Board does not require parents to administer the more accurate and sensitive PCR tests to their children rather than over-the-counter at-home tests, Dixon said, “If the Board of Ed followed the CDD guidelines, parents would be more inclined to do what is evidence based in terms of testing, which then has better public health outcomes.

Adding to Stacy’s frustration is the fact that her daughter, “Cynthia,” who is in special ed at P.S. 28, is prone to anxiety over school. “When we had to miss school, she freaked out, she was extremely upset,” Stacy said.

Stacy credits the teachers at P.S. 28 with helping Cynthia do her best under the circumstances. “The school is great, the teachers are awesome, they gave us work, they gave us leeway, they’re really working well with the emotional things the kids are going through” she said (a sentiment echoed by Purdon whose daughter also received some instruction from her P.S. 28 teacher outside of the school’s regular hours).

But while parents heaped praise on the city’s teachers, they were less understanding of the district’s administration in general. Said Purdon, “Since our curricula in New Jersey is standardized, why can’t they prep weekly folders they photocopy when children are sick?”

It is unlikely such a change — not to mention a change in the district’s quarantine policy — will take place before the end of this school year.

Said Superintendent Fernandez, “We are hopeful that we will be able to reduce the isolation period by September.”

Elizabeth Morrill

Deputy Editor Elizabeth Morrill has worked in business, not for profit fundraising and as a freelance copy editor. She holds degrees in American studies and education from Yale and Harvard.