Home CoronaVirus Governor lifts mask mandate in schools beginning March 7

Governor lifts mask mandate in schools beginning March 7

Kids in masks at Princeton Family YMCA
Noting the significant decline of statewide COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that masks and facial coverings will no longer be mandated for students, staff members or visitors in New Jersey’s schools and childcare centers effective March 7.

“I must thank the overwhelming majority of students, parents, administrators, educators and support staffers who have worn their masks without problem or protest since our schools reopened for in-person learning,” Murphy was quoted as saying in a press release.

“Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids. Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-age population, we believe we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate,” he said.

School district administrators and childcare facility operators can choose to continue to implement universal masking policies after the mandate is lifted in March, according to a Feb. 7 press release from the Governor’s office.

Schools that do not impose universal masking should revise their COVID policies to use masking among other prevention strategies under certain circumstances, according to the press release.

Schools will not be permitted to prohibit the use of facial coverings by individuals.

Administrators will be expected to take disciplinary action in instances of bullying should those instances arise due to an individual’s choice to continue wearing a mask, according to the press release.

Prior to the mandate being lifted, the New Jersey Department of Health will release guidance to help school districts update their policies to align with the risks and unique needs of their setting and student population to ensure safe learning environments, according to the press release.

“The department will develop guidance that incorporates all aspects of safety in schools while children are unmasked,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in the press release. “We know every parent wants to do what is best for their children.”

For the South Brunswick School District, Superintendent of Schools Scott Feder said he hopes the Department of Education and the Department of Health will send out communications and guidance to all boards of education prior to March 7.
“It is not so simple as a governor making an announcement; this requires a cause and effect analysis as it relates to other existing guidance. For example, what happens when a student is back in school on day six or seven after a positive case of COVID?
“Currently, the guidance is for that student to wear a mask for the next five days. Will this now be optional or not? How about the guidance as it relates to close contacts being required to quarantine? This rule fluctuates based upon not only where the child is, but also whether they and potential other close contacts were properly wearing masks,” Feder said.
“If the quarantine rules do not adjust, schools will be forced to send home all students who are within 6 feet of a positive student in the classrooms, which will create a great deal more exclusions and students not being in person for their learning.
“Right now, if children are masked and 3 feet away from each other in a classroom, they are not considered close contacts. This would be a major change and will have a major impact.
“The bottom line is that nothing works in isolation and the Department of Education has to take the time and devote the resources to truly understanding the impact on schools and the delivery of instruction.
“They have a month to do that, which is a lot more time than ever before on a COVID matter, and that should allow them time to think critically and collaborate with school professionals on how they will communicate and guide school districts with this change, as well as the impact it will have on other tangential guidance,” Feder said.
Feder said once all parameters are carefully and clearly developed, he will share South Brunswick’s more specific policies.
The plans for the North Brunswick School District were not known as of press time.

Following Murphy’s announcement, New Jersey Education Association President Sean M. Spiller, Vice President Steve Beatty and Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson released a statement in which they said, “We are encouraged by the data showing a rapid decline of COVID transmission in New Jersey. Because of that, we are cautiously optimistic the current statewide school mask mandate can be safely relaxed in the near future, assuming current trends continue.

“As we have said from the beginning of the pandemic, it is critical to follow the data and listen to public health experts when implementing or removing COVID protocols. As of today (Feb. 7), that data is trending strongly in the right direction and we look forward to additional public health guidance supporting the move away from mandatory masking in schools.

“We urge Gov. Murphy to continue to analyze the data and do whatever is necessary to best protect the health and well-being of students and staff. That includes the possibility of maintaining or reimposing the mask mandate for schools after March 7 if the data indicate that is the correct course.

“It is appropriate for Gov. Murphy to allow local districts to continue to require masking in communities where that is prudent based on local conditions. We also urge Gov. Murphy to direct the Department of Health to provide clear guidelines and metrics for local districts to use as they decide whether to continue mandatory masking based on local conditions.

“In addition, we continue to urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. It is clear that the more people in our school communities who are vaccinated, the safer everyone in those communities will be.

“That is also the best way to prevent a resurgence of COVID that could result in the need to reinstitute protocols, such as masking, that we are on the verge of being able to move beyond,” the NJEA officials said.

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