Hoboken students who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine but have not gotten the shot will be tested for the virus weekly, the public school district announced this week in a move that is believed to be a first in the state.
Students 11 years of age and younger, who are too young to be vaccinated, will also be tested on a weekly basis at random, according to the district’s new policy.
The steps the Hoboken public schools are taking go further than a state mandate that require testing for unvaccinated school staff at least once a week.
While many colleges and universities have required student vaccinations, it is thus far rare in K-12 school systems, and no other district in New Jersey is believed to have made this move.
Hoboken was the only school district in Hudson County to offer students the opportunity to learn in-person, full-time for nearly the entire 2021-21 school year, and on occasions it required students to get tested when returning from breaks. This new policy simply feels like an extension of last year’s safety measures, said Superintendent Christine Johnson.
“Parents do still have some questions, but it’s more the parents who were on remote last year … and also some new families to the district,” Johnson said. “For the most part it has been overly positive, the responses we’ve been getting.”
Students 12 and older who haven’t been vaccinated will be tested for COVID-19 on site, the district policy says. The district will bill each family’s health insurance provider for the tests and will cover the cost for uninsured families with federal coronavirus relief funds.
“We have ensured that no family will be charged or sent a bill,” the policy states.
Student under 12, will also be tested, though less regularly. The district will select a random sample of the younger students to be tested every Friday. Those students will be notified the Wednesday before and may get tested offsite if they choose, the district said. The policy was first reported by Hudson County View.
The percentage of students tested each week will be based on the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate. The district is not requiring testing for vaccinated students.
Johnson said she does not view the policy as a way to incentivize parents to get their children vaccinated.
“It was really more to ensure that we were testing our older kids who needed to be tested on a more regular basis because of things like athletics and after-school activities where they are very close,” she said.
In New York City, the only similar measure is a requirement for certain student athletes to be vaccinated in order to compete. Los Angeles Unified School district students are being tested weekly regardless of whether they’re vaccinated.
Culver City, California, meanwhile, last week issued what is believed to be the first vaccine mandate for K-12 students, according to the New York Times. The school district is giving students until mid-November to provide proof of vaccination, a letter sent to families said.
Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla said he supports the local district’s decision.
“I applaud Superintendent Dr. Christine Johnson and her team for instituting a vaccine or testing requirement for all faculty and students 12 years of age and up this school year,” Bhalla said in a statement. “This robust plan to continue to provide safe, in-person educational instruction will ensure that students and families feel protected in the classroom and will limit the spread of COVID-19 among our children.
“I strongly encourage all other institutions and businesses in Hoboken to adopt similar policies.”