On March 1, the Hopewell Valley Regional School District announced that it will transition to a mask-optional phase in schools and on school buses starting March 7.
This move is in line with Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement on Feb. 7 that masks would no longer be required for students, staff and visitors inside school buildings come March 7, the first lift of the mandate since September 2020; as well as the recently announced CDC guidelines that have loosened mask and vaccination restrictions.
Contact tracing will no longer be required if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, but a 5-day isolation period is still required, and students are encouraged to wear masks on days 6-10.
Students who are sent home due to symptoms must quarantine and are strongly encouraged to test. Unvaccinated siblings who show COVID-like symptoms must also quarantine, according to the guidelines.
Students and staff who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 are advised to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and get tested.
Remote learning is still an option for students who are in isolation, but the district aims to remain in person as much as possible, officials said.
Students will still be spaced apart in classrooms and during lunch “as much as possible,” and individuals who feel they need to wear a mask are strongly encouraged to do so.
“This has been a difficult decision,” Superintendent Rosetta D. Treece wrote in a letter to the Hopewell Valley community. “This decision was based upon a number of factors, the most significant being the number of students and staff who are vaccinated, the decrease in transmission rates, and our diligent efforts in implementing mitigation measures throughout this pandemic.”
The district notes that staff and students should be prepared for a transition back into a mask mandated phase under the guidance of local and state health departments if the county falls in the red, “very high” COVID activity zone.
Treece also acknowledges that this transition may be difficult for some students and staff, and encourages parents who have concerns to reach out to their school counselors and child study team representatives to support families through this change.
“There are definitely mixed opinions, and strong opinions, on both sides of the mask debate,” said Bill Herbert, a member of the Board of Education. “Many parents and students feel that the damage done by wearing masks is worse than the risk of the virus, and they just want to get back to normal and make the masks optional as soon as possible. There are others that would prefer to wait until the infection levels are lower, and those who have concerns about immunocompromised students and family members.”
As the district progresses toward normalcy, many – including Herbert – are optimistic about the mask-optional phase. Herbert said, “I think that when the mask mandate is lifted, most students will be happy to be able to get back to a little bit more normalcy in their lives and to once again have the ability to see the faces and hear the voices of their classmates who choose to forego wearing masks.”