HOWELL – As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wane in New Jersey, the Howell K-8 School District will become a mask-optional district beginning March 7.
Howell administrators made their decision regarding masks shortly after Gov. Phil Murphy’s Feb. 7 announcement in which he noted the significant decline of statewide COVID-19 metrics and said masks and facial coverings will no longer be mandated for students, staff members or visitors in schools and childcare centers effective March 7.
“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,” Murphy was quoted as saying in a press release.
In a Feb. 9 letter to the community, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Isola said the district would no longer conduct contact tracing on positive COVID-19 cases.
“Additionally, we will be pivoting to a mask-optional environment on March 7 in accordance with Gov. Murphy’s recent announcement. As we have indicated throughout the pandemic, should local decision-making be granted by the Governor and the COVID-19 related data is favorable, we would return to (the) mask-optional protocols (that were followed) in the spring and summer of 2021,” Isola wote.
The superintendent said administrators will update the community as necessary.
“As always, staff and students should remain home when ill. We are committed to providing a safe learning environment for all individuals and will monitor available data relative to COVID-19.
“We will maintain good hygiene and safety protocols such as physical distancing to every extent practicable. Additional modifications to our COVID-19 protocols will be considered as appropriate for the remainder of the school year,” Isola wrote.
In announcing the lifting of the mask mandate, Murphy said school district administrators and the operators of childcare facilities can choose to continue to implement universal masking policies after the mandate is lifted in March.
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, 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.
Parents should note that the lifting of the state’s mask mandate does not relate to school buses. The federal requirement that requires every person to wear a mask on public transportation remains in place. That means while individuals are riding on a school bus, a mask must still be worn.