Face masks for students and staff will be optional in classrooms and hallways beginning March 7, Princeton Public Schools officials announced March 1.
Masks also will be optional on school buses, said Superintendent of Schools Carol Kelley. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped the federal mask requirement for buses and vans operated by public and private schools.
Although masking is no longer required, the school district will continue to encourage masking in school and on the bus, Kelley said.
The transition from mandatory masking to optional masking will be easy to make for many students, but it may be confusing for other students, she said.
“Some of our youngest students have never attended school without wearing a mask. Seeing their peers without masks or being without a mask themselves will be a big change,” Kelley said.
Kelley encouraged parents to talk to their children about the masking guidelines and to help them see “the big picture.” Every student has a slightly different set of circumstances, she said.
“Please speak with your children about the importance of being tolerant of one another and to be kind to those who may have opinions that they do not share,” Kelley said.
The Princeton Public Schools’ decision to drop mandatory mask wearing follows Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement Feb. 7 that masks or facial coverings would not be required in schools and childcare facilities beyond March 7.
Murphy cited the statewide drop in COVID-19 cases for lifting the mask mandate, but the governor left it to each school district to decide whether it wanted to continue masking.
There has been a drop in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 among students in recent weeks. There were seven cases of COVID-19 among Princeton students for the week of Feb. 19-25, compared to 96 cases for the week of Jan. 3-7.
Since the week of Sept. 13-17, there have been 469 positive cases of COVID-19 among Princeton students.
The mask mandate may be brought back under certain circumstances, such as an active outbreak of COVID-19 or when COVID-19 activity returns to the “high” or “very high” range, Kelley said.
Students and staff who are returning to school on days 6-10 after isolation or quarantine would be required to wear a mask. Anyone who becomes ill during the school day would be required to wear a mask until they leave the building.
Kelley urged parents to get a booster shot for their child as soon as possible to protect the child and to keep COVID levels low in the school district. The overall vaccination rate for Princeton children ages 5-11 is 87%, and for ages 12 and over, it is 88%, she said.