Newark has more than 115 schools. Only 3 Post COVID Data online.


October 16, 2021

Over 57,000 Newark students have been learning in person over the past several weeks, along with thousands of teachers and school staff. So, how many cases of COVID have appeared in each school?

The public has no way of knowing. Of more than 115 traditional and charter public schools in Newark, only three publish COVID data online.

The three schools that make the data public are managed by Marion P. Thomas Charter Schools, which publishes the latest number of student and employee COVID cases at each school.

“While transparency is not always easy,” said Angela Mincy, Superintendent of Schools, “we are committed to doing what is right for our students, families, staff and our wider community.”

Data from Marion P. Thomas is reassuring: Only 17 people have tested positive for COVID out of nearly 1,600 students and employees, according to the dashboard on the school’s website, which officials say is set updated every night. Since the three schools started classes on August 30, they have not had a single outbreak of COVID, which the state defines as three or more cases related to transmission at school.

In New Jersey and across the country, new daily coronavirus infections are declining as more Americans get vaccinated, and transmission of COVID is generally low in schools that follow safety guidelines. Yet some students and teachers continue to be infected, often outside of school, forcing them and their close contacts to self-quarantine.

For this reason, many people have searched for their schools’ COVID numbers. Yet in Newark, most schools do not publish this data.

Marion P. Thomas is the only one of Newark’s 17 charter school operators to publish her COVID case count online, according to Chalkbeat’s review of their websites. Public schools in Newark, the state’s largest traditional school district, also do not release school-level COVID data, although the superintendent shared the overall number of cases for the first time last month. . (As of September 28, 75 of the district’s 37,000 students have tested positive, he said.)

Schools are legally allowed to publish the number of COVID cases as long as they do not identify individual students. Like Marion P. Thomas, many other districts in New Jersey publish online data trackers that show the number of confirmed cases at each school.

Although the Newark School District and all but one charter school operator do not release their COVID data, they do follow it. Schools must report cases of COVID to the local health department; From October 26, they will also need to report the number of cases and weekly vaccination rates to the state health department.

Newark families and school employees have called on schools to share this data publicly.

“Some parents have expressed many concerns that they may not always be able to easily and clearly access information about COVID outbreaks in their schools,” Newark School Board member A’Dorian Murray-Thomas said during last month’s board meeting.

Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León has verbally shared employee case numbers at monthly board meetings since the start of the pandemic, and last month, for the first time, he gave the number of district-wide student cases. However, the district did not publish these figures online or provide data at the school level.

At the September meeting, León said the district was “really trying to figure this out”. A district spokesperson did not respond to an email Friday asking if the data will be uploaded.

It’s also unclear if or when the city’s charter schools will follow Marion P. Thomas’ lead and release school-level COVID data.

One of the largest charter school operators, KIPP New Jersey, which operates 14 schools in Newark, has “no plans at this time” to release COVID data online, spokeswoman Jessica Shearer said. However, each KIPP school sends families a letter every week with the number of people in quarantine, she added.

“The vast majority of students and staff are in classrooms and we have had no reports of widespread epidemics or building closures,” she said in an email.

Kyle Rosenkrans, executive director of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation, which supports Newark charter schools, argued that the state bears much of the responsibility. The New Jersey Department of Health only publishes COVID outbreaks in schools by county, not by district or school, and does not require districts to share their data locally.

“The lack of adequate state standards on the number of reported cases has left districts and schools to find out for themselves,” he said in a statement. “In this kind of vacuum, it’s no surprise that we see a variety of approaches on the ground in Newark.”

Rosenkrans said his organization has encouraged all schools to share their COVID data “liberally”, adding that he expects “reports to become more robust over time.”

In an email, Superintendent Mincy of Marion P. Thomas said she understands why other principals might feel vulnerable when sharing COVID data with the public. But allowing people to see exactly how many – or how many – cases of COVID have been reported in schools can help reduce anxiety and reassure the public that schools are keeping students and employees safe.

“We owe it to our community,” she said, “to continue to operate with empathy, grace and transparency”.

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Subscribe to their newsletters here.

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