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Manalapan-Englishtown district will be mask-optional March 7

The use of a face mask during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will become optional for students, staff members and visitors in the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District on March 7.

Superintendent of Schools Nicole Santora delivered that long-awaited news to members of the Board of Education and the public during a board meeting on Feb. 15.

Santora’s announcement followed a Feb. 7 announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy, who said that due to a significant decline of statewide COVID-19 metrics, 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.

“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 announcing the move to a mask-optional model, Santora said that “any disrespect for someone’s individual choice (to wear a mask or not to wear a mask) will not be tolerated.” She said that message would be conveyed to everyone in all of the district’s schools.

Santora said guidelines promulgated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and supported by Murphy’s office require a mask to be worn by individuals on a school bus. The superintendent said administrators will make their best effort to ensure compliance with that guideline.

Regarding what she called a “return to normalcy” as the pandemic wanes across the Garden State, Santora said, “We are working to bring back events to our schools … but we are moving slowly … we do not want to slide backward.”

Echoing the superintendent’s remarks, board President Brian Graime said, “I think we are all excited to get to the next steps (in a return to normalcy). The goal for us is to end this school year the way we want the next school year to look like, which is the way it was two years ago” before the pandemic began.

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 on March 7.

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.

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