The use of a face mask during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is now optional for students, staff members and visitors in the Edison, Metuchen and Woodbridge public school districts as of today, March 7.
The superintendent of each district sent out correspondence to their respective school communities.
Among the three districts, Edison Schools Superintendent Bernard Bragen announced the district’s decision the earliest through a letter on Feb. 18.
“While removing the mask requirement will be a welcome reprieve for many, we also understand that some students and staff may not be comfortable doing so,” he wrote in the letter. “Please know that anyone who desires to continue to wear a mask in school will be permitted to do so. We respect everyone’s right to make this personal choice depending on their individual circumstances and comfort level.”
Woodbridge Schools Superintendent Joseph Massimino sent out a letter on March 3.
“While this marks an important step forward in the operation of our schools, please understand that schools will continue to follow established health and safety protocols in regard to preventing the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
“Additionally, we ask that our families continue to follow appropriate hygiene practices, stay home when sick, and take all the necessary precautions outside of our schools to ensure our school community can continue to operate safely.”
Metuchen Schools Superintendent Vincent Caputo announced the decision through his weekly social media post on March 4.
“All key metrics used throughout the pandemic, including current local conditions, were considered in the decision-making process,” he said, noting a review of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) guidance last week.
While masks are becoming optional, Caputo said on several occasions masks must be worn, including anytime in the nurse’s office, when returning early from isolation following a positive diagnosis (or presumed positive), or from quarantine following a close contact exclusion with nurse clearance on days six to 10 (unless a student returns on day eight with a negative test result from days five through seven).
“The district reserves the right to reinstate masking at any time,” he said. “Situations that might warrant reinstating the mask mandate include, but are not limited to, the weekly CALI (COVID-19 Activity Level Index) report showing high COVID activity (orange status), high level of COVID activity within the borough, or outbreaks in specific classes or school buildings. We may also require masks for a specific school or district event.”
Caputo further stated the district is “mindful that the decision of whether to wear a mask will be at the discretion of parents and caregivers” given the age of the students.
“Kindness is expected, and bullying related to masking will not be tolerated,” he said. “Respectfully, I also request that [parents/guardians] refrain from asking school staff whether [their] child is (or other children are) wearing a mask throughout the school day as their primary focus is on the delivery of instruction and services. Our staff members will not be able to monitor and report out masking information to parents.”
The district will also continue to contact trace as best they can.
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.
NJDOH has released 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.
The mask mandate has also been lifted on school bus transportation.