Lawrence Township school district officials expect to decide by Feb. 28 whether to drop the in-classroom mask mandate for students, or to continue it beyond March 7, the date that Gov. Phil Murphy announced the statewide mandate would be lifted.
Murphy announced Feb. 7 that masks or facial coverings would not be required for students, staff members or visitors to schools and childcare facilities, pointing to the statewide drop in COVID-19 cases.
Lawrence Township Public Schools reported 394 positive cases of COVID-19 among students in January, but only 22 positive cases of COVID-19 had been reported from Feb. 1-13.
If a school district drops the mask mandate, students would still have the option to wear a face mask.
The decision that the Lawrence Township Public Schools must make is more complex than Murphy’s announcement would make it appear, Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun told the school board at its Feb. 9 meeting.
The school district would need more guidance and information from the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey Department of Health to reach a decision, Kasun said.
“Nothing works in isolation,” Kasun said. State officials need to take the time and devote the resources to truly understand the impact it would have on schools, he said.
Murphy’s announcement affects the existing guidance, Kasun said. A student who has tested positive for COVID-19 must wear a mask for the next five days after returning to the classroom, but he asked – rhetorically – whether it would be optional after March 7.
“Once there is an official word on masking and all the parameters are laid out by the state Department of Education and the state Department of Health, then our district will be able to make a smart and informed decision,” Kasun said.
Kasun said the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the school district has fluctuated – from 103 positive tests on one day a month ago, to two positive cases Feb. 9. If there are 50 cases or 103 cases one month from now, it would impact the district’s decision on masking, he said.
“Our plan is to have a final decision out to the community by Feb. 28,” Kasun said.
During the public comment section of the meeting, resident Nick Sferra said students should be given a choice to wear a mask after March 7.
The students play sports together and they socialize together, Sferra said. All of the staff members have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and many students also have been vaccinated, he said.
Murphy is removing the mask mandate and he has said that COVID-19 is not going away and that people will have to learn to live with it, Sferra said.
“I think we have all turned that corner where we have to learn to live with it,” Sferra said.