Back to School: COVID Policies, Safety Talks Rise in NY, NJ, and CT Schools as Students Return

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

COVID-related restrictions and school safety were front and center as school administrators hope for a school year as close to “normal” as possible.

“It was hard to fall asleep because I was so excited to come to school the next day,” said Grade 8 student Mazyck Thomas. “I can socialize with everyone and make lots of new friends.”

The nervousness of the first day does not concern only the students, but also their parents, because they send their children.

“My job, I work from home some days, so I really have to stay home with them,” one mum said.

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

About 38,000 students walk the halls of the Newark Public School District, a record number for the district.

“Day 1 is undeniably the most important day of the year for students, their families and staff,” said Newark Superintendent Roger Leon. “Attendance on the first day of school is just one of the ways we ensure the school year starts off on the right foot. We are extremely excited about the expansion of grades in schools. elementary through 8th grade, increasing grades in new high schools, and opening new pre-kindergarten seats across the city.”

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And with so many students entering classrooms, Newark Public Schools officials decided to maintain masking requirements.

“I think it’s good that they stay with the masks, protect themselves and wash their hands as much as possible,” said a parent.

Most school districts in the state and nation have eased COVID restrictions, but Newark Public Schools will require everyone to mask up.

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

“If you’re upset that your child has to wear the mask in class, get them vaccinated,” said Newark Teacher Union President John Abeigon. “The sooner we have more children vaccinated, the sooner these masks can come off.”

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Newark school officials will review the policy later this fall to determine whether or not they can relax the restriction.

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

“I’m nervous, excited,” mother Deandra Acheampong said. “You know, stressed. The traffic was heavy, 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 self-quarantine. But those who test positive for the virus must still self-isolate for at least five days.

“It’s never going to be normal, but it’s something we’ll have to honestly live with,” parent Felton Hebron said. “Kids, they’re just prepped for the year.”

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

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

“We have upgraded many buildings with new technology,” he said. “We’ve added 12 more security guards to our schools. The police department is facilitating training. A lot in terms of security.”

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