When New Jersey’s school mask mandate is lifted on March 7, administrators in the Upper Freehold Regional School District will make the use of a mask optional for all individuals in the district’s three schools.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Guterl stated in a Feb. 18 letter that on March 7, Upper Freehold Regional students and staff members will no longer be required to wear a mask in school, but will still have the option to wear one.
“As the next weeks and months go by, we will continue to stress that regardless of whether a student or a staff member wears a mask or not, they will be treated with the utmost respect at all times,” Guterl said. “Please help us convey that message to our students over the next two weeks.
“There is some debate of the timing of this decision, but our local data shows that cases are minimal at this point. I do believe putting the decision in the hands of our families and staff is the right decision at this point in time. I am really excited by the data that shows very few cases,” the superintendent said.
Upper Freehold Regional serves school-age residents of Upper Freehold Township and Allentown. High school-age residents of Millstone Township attend Allentown High School through a send-receive relationship between Upper Freehold Regional and the Millstone Township K-8 School District.
On Feb. 7, noting the significant decline of statewide COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that 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 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.
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.
In accordance with federal guidelines, even after the mask mandate is lifted in schools, a mask must still be worn by every person on a school bus.