Governor To Lift Mask Mandate For Schools In New Jersey

Signs against masking children continue to circulate around Ocean County. (Photo by Jason Allentoff)

  TRENTON – After months of debates between officials, parents, school administrators and Boards of Education, Governor Phil Murphy declared that he will lift his executive order and let school districts make their own rules about wearing masks. This will take affect on March 7.

  The governor has been under fire by Republican lawmakers, accusing him of overreach. Litigation and parent opposition in school districts like his own home town of Middletown in Monmouth County, and in Ocean County districts such as Jackson and Lacey, have called for the governor to surrender that control over to the school districts allowing for their Board of Education to determine if the mask mandates will be left in place or become optional.

  In Lacey Township last month, two meetings were canceled minutes into their start when members of their audience including one member of their Board, refused to wear masks. One meeting cancelation led to a rescheduling to a Zoom session while a second live meeting’s cancelation caused the creation of a hybrid session a few days later when the same Board member, Salvatore Armato and a large portion of the audience did not put on their COVID-19 masks.

  Jackson Township has been no stranger to the controversy and many parents have expressed their view that students wearing masks was ineffective in combatting the virus and was creating undue stress on their children. Jackson and Lacey are among the school districts whose board members said they would prefer local control to determine policy and preferred a choice to make masking optional.

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  The governor said during today’s news conference that the decision was based on positive metrics showing COVID-19 cases on the decline and hospitalizations from the pandemic at very low levels.

  The “big news of the day” as the governor put it was a welcome announcement by many parents, students, public officials and school district leaders.

  “The state wide school mask mandate will be lifted in 30 days. Additionally, we will lift the state wide mandate in all child care settings. We are announcing this for plenty of notice to determine how this will affect them. Masking continues to be an important tool in preventing the spreading of COVID. It should be used in many circumstances,” the governor said.

  He said the State Board of Health would be updating its guidelines for school districts as to whether and when masks should be worn. He commended educators, administrators and support staff for complying with the mandate. The unmasking would take place on March 7 but still allows for school districts to determine their own masking policies. This includes any private school provider.

  Murphy spoke out against anyone who might demean or bully those who chose to continue masking and promoted the idea of vaccination to fight against COVID.

  “This is a huge step back to normalcy for our kids,” the governor said. “We aren’t going to manage COVID to zero. We have to live with COVID as we move from the pandemic to the endemic phase of this virus. The number has dropped off significantly in the last month,” the governor said in regards to school districts and their staff and student populations.

  “We didn’t want to pull back too early,” the governor said, noting that this was done to prevent having to close schools if a rise occurred. “In every case across the board we (New Jersey) have not had to reimplement any major requirements.

  “We know that remote learning is an inadequate substitute for learning,” Murphy said. The governor added one area he was disappointed in was, “booster penetration.”

  He noted those receiving boosters were “sadly much lower than it should be. The 49% of the un-boosted is the one area where we need more progress.”