Newark classes resume after closures due to unhealthy air quality alerts

Manhattan is covered in a haze from wildfire smoke from Canada.
Newark Public Schools canceled classes on Thursday as unhealthy air quality conditions continue. (Alex Zimmerman / Chalkbeat)

Update 06/09/2023: Newark Public Schools resumed classes on Friday, June 9 and central office employees returned to work. Recess and other outdoor activities will be held indoors as a precautionary measure, the district said.

Newark Public Schools and central office will be closed on Thursday as the smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to impact New Jersey and the surrounding areas. 

The district made the announcement on its Facebook page just after midnight on Thursday. Unhealthy air quality conditions are expected to continue Thursday, and as of 7 a.m., Newark and nearly the rest of the state were under a purple alert, marking very unhealthy air quality conditions for residents. 

In the surrounding area, KIPP Newark schools, North Star Academy schools, Irvington and Elizabeth school districts also announced they canceled classes on Thursday. Districts like Jersey City and Bloomfield decided to remain open and canceled recess along with outdoor activities during and after the school day on Thursday.

On Wednesday, New Jersey experienced the worst air quality in decades. Smoke from the millions of acres burning in Canada began to enter Newark and the vicinity on Tuesday evening. Red alerts were issued for Essex and the surrounding counties for unhealthy air conditions that day. On Wednesday, some areas of New Jersey experienced low visibility due to the smoke and saw an orange haze as air quality levels worsened in the afternoon.

Experts said inhaling smoke and ash from wildfires could cause damage and irritation to the body, lungs, and heart. The city of Newark urged residents to stay indoors when possible and advised sensitive groups such as young children, elderly residents, and people with asthma to stay indoors. The risk is higher for communities such as Newark, where people are exposed to higher levels of pollution and are twice as likely to develop asthma, according to the Environmental Defense Fund

Northern New Jersey reached very unhealthy air quality levels at 1 p.m,. with an air quality index reading of 205 in Newark as heavy smoke enveloped the region. The air quality index continued to rise as Newark and the tri-state area saw hazardous conditions reaching air quality index levels of more than 301 on Wednesday afternoon. 

New Jersey state offices closed at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday due to worsening air quality conditions and will have a delayed 10 a.m. opening on Thursday.

Residents can check their local air quality at the AirNow website, which provides state, local and regional updates. 

Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.  

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