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 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.
Superintendent Victor Valeski issued a statement detailing East Brunswick Public Schools’ updated mask policy.
“Anticipating the cessation of Gov. Murphy’s school mask mandate for schools on March 7, 2022, East Brunswick Public Schools will implement a mask-optional policy. Beginning, Monday, March 7, 2022 masks will be encouraged but optional. District staff and students, along with students’ families, will have the option to decide if they will wear masks inside school properties.
“Masks will remain mandatory while on district-owned or contracted buses as directed by prevailing federal transportation regulations.
“East Brunswick Public School retains the right to re-impose local mask requirements for the mitigation of COVID transmissibility among staff or students if data reveals a rise in school-related infections.
“Harassment, intimidation or bullying of anyone because of their masking decision will not be tolerated. All matters will be fully investigated under our existing Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) Policy 5512,” Valeski said.
On Feb. 11, Superintendent Sylvia Zircher posted a message to update South River families on the district’s plan moving forward with mask mandates.
“As you are likely aware, Gov. Murphy lifted the mandatory mask mandate for schools, effective March 7, 2022. From the start of the pandemic, we used the recommendations from the governor, the New Jersey Departments of Health and Education, and the CDC to guide our decisions. We also consider district and local data in our decision making. The latest COVID-19 Activity Level Report indicates that our region (central east) is now at a yellow or moderate level of activity.
“Based on the governor’s announcement and our community conditions, masks will be optional in South River Public Schools for all students, staff and visitors effective March 7, 2022.
“We understand that mask wearing is a very personal and individualized choice. Those who choose to wear masks at school will be able to do so without question or interference.
“We will continue to monitor the conditions in our community to ensure that changes in mitigation strategies do not adversely affect our ability to keep children and staff healthy and in school. We ask that all members of the South River school community monitor for symptoms, stay home and test when you feel unwell, and isolate if you become COVID-positive.
“Vaccination continues to be a recommended strategy to combat the effects of COVID-19. South River Public Schools will be hosting a booster clinic for those who are eligible and interested. Visit Vaccine Clinic 2_25_22.pdf for more information about the clinic or visit our website for vaccination information and resources.
“We have endured a challenging few years, and we thank you for your patience and partnership, as we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, and work towards a return to normalcy,” Zircher said.
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 Murphy’s press release.
The policies in Jamesburg, Spotswood, Monroe and Milltown were not known as of press time.