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

At Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, Interim Jersey City Schools Superintendent Norma Fernandez reported that that only 98 out of the city’s roughly 28,000 public school students had tested positive for Covid-19 this week, a number she called “extremely encouraging.” However, a group of parents of students with medical vulnerabilities is asking for another option: short-term remote learning.

According to Fernandez, the district recently began offering students free, in-school saliva tests for Covid-19 if their parents opt in. Families can start participating in the program by registering with vendor Concentric.

“Once our students are more comfortable with the weekly testing, we will meet with our health professionals and administrators to develop a test-to-stay policy,” Fernandez added.

One such parent who spoke at the meeting is Shanna Givens, whose son suddenly developed asthma after having an asymptomatic case of Covid and now wheezes multiple times a day. Givens views Fernandez’s comments about the district’s low Covid percentages as “gaslighting” given that its Covid testing program is voluntary.

And, like other children with “Long Covid,“ Givens’ son now experiences chronic anxiety and fatigue, sometimes falling asleep in class, she said.

“I don’t think we realize how hard it is after having Covid,” Givens said.

Sabila Khan organized 20 parents with similar concerns to send a letter to the board and superintendent. She noted that all were “people of color…who are also dealing with complex physical and mental health issues.”

In 2020, Khan co-founded a Facebook group for those who have lost family and friends to Covid. Introducing herself as an “almost life-long resident of Jersey City” and mother of two P.S. 16 students, she said, “For my multi-generational household, which includes my elderly and frail mother, in-person learning is quite literally a matter of life and death.

Khan said her school sent a note to parents explaining that, while asynchronous options aren’t currently available, the board is “collecting data” from parents on the number of families interested in this option. Khan received her letter but says many other parents didn’t.

“Those who are in other schools informed me that they didn’t receive this notice,” Khan said. “If the goal of JCPS leadership was to reach the people who need this option the most, it didn’t work.”

At the meeting, Fernandez said the senior leadership team met to discuss the request of this group of parents, but that remote options are only available on an individual basis.

“Under the Road Forward health and safety guidance for the 2021-22 school year from the New Jersey Department of Education, school districts must have in-person instruction and operations,” Fernandez said.

“Remote is only an option for quarantined students for a short period of time or when student safety is not possible [in person] as we did for those two weeks in January,” she continued. “However, parents that have a concern due to medical reasons, should contact the school nurse and speak to their child’s pediatrician about requesting home instruction for the period of time that doctor recommends.”

The superintendent also addressed the district’s quarantine policy concerning unvaccinated individuals who have come into close contact with someone with Covid. Parents at the meeting pointed out that the district’s “safe return” quarantine policy of 14 days differs from the CDC’s most recent call for a five-to-10 day quarantine period.

Fernandez said the district is continuing to review the New Jersey Department of Health’s latest position and is considering shortening the K-12 quarantine period.

Under some circumstances, the district currently requires people to quarantine for as many as for 24 days. Fernandez said this affects “a limited number of students.”

“Vaccination for parents and students is a priority so that we can really move forward with putting a shorter quarantine and isolation,” the interim superintendent said.

Andrea Crowley-Hughes

Andrea Crowley-Hughes is a writer and media maker motivated by chronicling and sustaining communities. Her reporting on education, sustainability and the restaurant industry has recently been featured...