People’s Prep Charter School in Newark closes for cleaning amid coronavirus concerns

A Newark charter school sent students home early on Wednesday and cancelled classes for the rest of the week because of coronavirus concerns. 

People’s Prep Charter School dismissed students and employees just after noon Wednesday after learning that a staff member is connected to someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to a statement that also said the high school would receive a “deep cleaning.” The school will remain closed for cleaning this week and is tentatively scheduled to reopen on Monday.

The staffer does not have symptoms and there are no reported cases of the virus at the school, the statement said. A spokesman emphasized that the staffer did not directly interact with the person who tested positive for the new coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19.

“We have just been informed that one of our staff members was in contact with someone who was in close proximity to another person that has a confirmed case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus),” said the statement, which the school posted on Facebook. “Out of an abundance of caution, we will be dismissing all students and staff immediately and doing a deep cleaning of our facilities.”

The virus is thought to spread mainly when someone comes into close contact with an infected person, who may pass on the virus through “respiratory droplets” in coughs and sneezes. 

People’s Prep, which has about 375 students and 60 employees, shares a building with the district-run Bard High School Early College. People’s Prep immediately notified the district of its decision to cancel classes and clean its facilities, the spokesman said. He added that the school was not ordered to close, but was being “extra cautious.”

A Newark Public Schools spokeswoman said the district is “coordinating efforts with the administration of People’s Prep.” Wednesday was a staff training day for district employees, and students were not in school. 

As of Wednesday, New Jersey had 23 presumed cases of COVID, whose symptoms include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. One person has died, and nearly 40 people remain under investigation for possible infections, according to the state health department. Newark has not reported any cases.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency, authorizing the education department and other state agencies to take “appropriate steps” to address the health crisis. Colleges throughout the state have said they will close for coronavirus cleaning, with many planning to move lectures online.

School districts and charter schools have been ordered to come up with plans to continue educating students at home if the virus forces schools to close.

People’s Prep said it would email work packets to students later on Wednesday so they could continue learning. The work will be due when students return to class.

It is possible the school could remain closed after this week if the outbreak worsens and schools are ordered to close, People’s Prep Co-Director Jess Rooney said in a message posted on the school website Wednesday afternoon.

“Our hope is that the rest of the school year will continue as usual,” she said, “but we will be in touch in the event of significant developments.”

This story has been updated to include information provided in a statement by the school’s co-director.