TOMS RIVER – The President of the Board of Education wrote to Gov. Phil Murphy asking him to end the mask mandate for schools.
The district has enforced the mask mandate, but with more places opening up, schools should be one of them, Board President Joseph Nardini said.
“This request is submitted in good faith and with great respect for the science and data which drives national, state, and local regulations regarding COVID-19. Our board and school district is not “anti-mask” as a general matter of supposed principle,” he said.
“At this point, however, and certainly projecting to September, we believe masks are unnecessary,” Nardini said. “The vast majority of our staff have been fully vaccinated, and the risk that COVID-19 poses to our student population – many of whom will also be vaccinated heading into next year – is extremely low, and not inclusive of the more dramatic symptoms and health problems known to affect older adults.
“Please consider repealing Executive Order 175 in time for September, and restoring a sense of normalcy that will help us all breathe easier, literally and figuratively,” he said.
As the number of people contracting coronavirus has gone down, the world is starting to open up. Part of the reason numbers are going down has to do with vaccination. Children 12 and older (middle school and high school) are able to be vaccinated. The rest (preschool through fifth or sixth grade) can not.
Medical professionals have continually advocated for the use of masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. Supporters of masks have said that doing so protects the most vulnerable, including special education students. They also don’t want children to bring the virus back home to elderly grandparents or the children’s pregnant mothers.
Nardini said that he made the plea on behalf of the “overwhelming opinion of my fellow board members and the tens of thousands of students and families who comprise this school district.”
While the district has been proactive in gauging the opinions of the public in regards to returning to the district, there was no questionnaire about their opinions on masks.
Nardini said that the district has followed safety protocols, including vaccinating teachers and staff, following health guidance, installing desk dividers and air purifiers, and making it known how many staff and students have tested positive over the last year and a half. (As of press time, this was just under 1,000 students, or 6.64%, and under 300 staff, or 13%. This is the total number, not how many are currently sick.)
With this amount of transparency, and after following all the regulations, the district should be allowed to take the masks off, he said.
Toms River is not alone in this. Other districts, such as Central Regional, Barnegat, and Ocean Gate have asked the governor to waive the mask regulation in September.
Despite the letters from district leaders, the New Jersey Education Association sees masks as important to keep educators and students healthy.
“As we have since last March, NJEA continues to advocate for taking all necessary measures to protect the health and safety of all students and staff,” said spokesperson Steve Baker. “Current medical guidance continues to recommend masking for all unvaccinated individuals, a group that includes the vast majority of the students in our public schools. We should not take any risks or shortcuts as we work to emerge from this pandemic.”
The governor announced that the indoor mask mandate was dropped as of May 28, just before the Memorial Day weekend. Critics of the governor said he was giving in to the pressure of the tourism industry.
Those who have not been vaccinated were urged to continue to wear a mask at any indoor public setting.
Individual businesses and other entities which oversee indoor spaces may continue to require that employees and customers/guests wear face masks.
Masks will continue to be required in the following places:
- Healthcare settings and long-term care facilities
- Correctional facilities
- Homeless shelters
- On an airplane, bus and train stations and other transit hubs
- Public-facing state offices, such as Motor Vehicle Commission Agencies
- Worksites that are closed to the public, including warehousing and manufacturing facilities
The Executive Order will not extend to:
- Child-care centers and facilities
- Youth summer camps
- Public, private or parochial preschool program premises and elementary and secondary schools, including charter and renaissance schools
- Worksites that are not open to the public, including manufacturing and warehousing facilities
– Alyssa Riccardi contributed to this story