Mayport, New Jersey—Mayport Beach Elementary School has been a magnet for the world’s first Ebola patient to arrive.
But the school has also been the site of the largest outbreak in New Jersey, and it’s a high-profile target for the virus.
As of last week, the city of Mayport had received nearly 2,000 cases of the virus, with nearly 1,000 confirmed cases, according to the city’s health department.
And on May 7, a new day of school was canceled because of the coronavirus.
The school was the first to reopen in the state after a temporary lockdown was lifted in late October, when the new school day began.
It’s been the focus of media coverage across the country and the U.S. government has announced it’s sending 50 additional health workers to the school.
In an interview with Bloomberg, the school’s principal, Lisa L. McVay, said the decision to close the school was made with the goal of helping students avoid any negative health outcomes.
“We are in a position to do everything we can to reduce any negative effects of the disease,” she said.
Lately, though, things have been a little less rosy.
The city’s public health officials are seeing some of the worst impacts of the outbreak in Mayport.
At the beginning of this month, the district received 1,100 confirmed cases of coronaviruses, including the Ebola-like virus, according, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Friday, the mayor announced the district would be closing its entire public school system in the next five years, the most recent of which was in July.
In a statement, the superintendent of schools said the district was considering whether to close schools for at least another five years.
“It is imperative that our district is ready to address the challenges of this new pandemic and prepare our students for the future,” the statement read.
“The health and well-being of our students is our top priority, and we will continue to work to improve the health and wellbeing of our community.”
Mayport is one of many communities across New Jersey facing similar challenges, as more and more schools are shut down.
And the local school district has had to respond to a growing number of school closures and closures in other communities.
In the town of Mecsa, the largest school district in the region, a district administrator told Bloomberg he’s seen a spike in students leaving the school after the first day of classes because they couldn’t find an alternative.
“If you were in the first class you’d have to walk up to the door and say, ‘You’re out of class, you can’t come back until the school is reopened,’ ” the school district administrator, Michael L. Devereaux, told Bloomberg.
Laying off the schools is a huge cost to the districts budget, but it’s also one that’s not easily covered by the state, according Scott A. Nisbet, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
“You’re going to have to lay off a lot of staff members and teachers to keep schools open, but that’s going to be a very expensive expense,” Nisbit told Bloomberg News.
“So if you’re a school district and you’re not getting the money to support your staff, you’re going out of business.”
Nisbert pointed to the example of an affluent suburb of Los Angeles that’s seen the biggest increase in school closings in the last five years as evidence of how expensive it can be to layoff staff members, even if the district is able to cover the costs.
“This is a cost that the state is taking on and is paying out in terms of taxes and fees,” Nisker told Bloomberg, explaining why it can become difficult to keep a school open.
“And the cost is, it’s going up over time, because people are trying to move from one school to another.”
The New Jersey Department of Education declined to provide data on the number of students leaving MecSA for other schools, but said in a statement that the district “continues to evaluate its enrollment strategy and is committed to maintaining a healthy school environment.”
“While we do not have any additional information about the number or number of staff that have left Mecs district to pursue other options, we have no indication that the number is at a higher level than before the district’s closure,” the department said.
In response to the closures, some local businesses and schools have been forced to close, including a restaurant and a pizza parlor in Maytown, the town that includes the school, as well as a music school and a gymnasium.
The closures have sparked outrage and anger across the state.
In Mecsis town hall meeting, Mayport Mayor Scott Larkin said he has received phone calls from constituents asking him to reopen