Newark will temporarily close remote learning centers due to COVID-19 spike

Newark will temporarily shut down sites where students can take online classes while their parents work. (Courtesy of Jaz West-Romero)

As coronavirus cases surge, Newark is temporarily shutting down sites where students can take online classes while their parents work.

The free centers provide students with adult supervision, internet access, and meals this fall while Newark’s traditional schools and most charter schools are operating remotely. Now, the sites will close for 10 days starting Nov. 25, according to a letter given to families Thursday.

The temporary shutdown comes as Newark — and much of the country — weathers an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The city’s test-positivity rate reached 19% last week after dipping as low as 3% this summer, Mayor Ras Baraka said. This week, the city has averaged more than 200 new cases per day, Baraka said Wednesday.

The mayor has imposed new restrictions to slow the virus’ spread, including a curfew in certain neighborhoods and an order for non-essential businesses to close by 8 p.m. On Wednesday, he announced an additional measure: an “advisory” asking all non-essential businesses to close completely and residents to remain home from Nov. 25 to Dec. 4. 

“It’s getting bad, and we’re going to have to take stronger measures,” he said on Facebook Live. During that 10-day period, he added, “We’re asking everything to be shut down.”

In response to a viewer’s question, Baraka said that the remote learning centers would stay open. However, parents were told Thursday that the sites were included in the citywide shutdown.

“Due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases the Mayor has made the decision to temporary [sic] close all City of Newark offices & programs” during that time period, said the letter from Patrick Council, director of the city’s recreation department.

“We truly apologize in advance for any inconveniences this may cause you,” he added, “but we feel it is in the best interest of your children, you, and the residents of Newark.”

Students who attend traditional or charter schools in Newark could sign up for the remote learning sites, which are based at recreation centers and a public library. The free program has been a lifeline to many working parents that spared them from paying for child care or even leaving their jobs.

Jaz West-Romero is one of those parents. A single parent who works full time, she has sent her six-year-old son Julius to one of the sites since they opened in late September. 

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“This is obviously going to throw a wrench into my situation,” she said Thursday.

She added that she understands the need to temporarily close the centers as virus cases spike. But she is hoping the temporary closure doesn’t become indefinite.

“I can manage the shutdown until Dec. 4,” she said. “If it goes past Dec. 4, then it’s going to be a problem.”

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