In just over a week, on March 7, New Jersey school districts will be free to adopt their own mask policies, with most South Jersey schools taking the opportunity to remove breathing screens.
This means New Jersey students, who have been forced to learn remotely or attend school under state mask mandates since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, will do another not back to what was considered normal before the virus spread across the world.
The reaction of many was a sigh of relief.
“Unmask the children! said one commenter on a Press of Atlantic City Facebook post.
School districts retain the right to impose local mask mandates for their students, staff and teachers if they choose. Schools that do not implement such mandates are being asked by the state to revise their pandemic policies to use masking or other interventions to reduce the spread under certain conditions.
The press contacted several schools in South Jersey to ask if they would adopt masking policies in light of the end of the state mandate. All said they would waive their own mandates and make masks optional.
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The Barnegat School District will lift the mask mandate for all students, staff and faculty on March 7, Stephen Nichol, the district’s director of personnel and operations, said in an email.
A memo was sent to alert parents and guardians of the upcoming policy change and that families had the opportunity to voice their concerns to district administrators. Students and staff will still be required to wear masks on buses, and all of its other pandemic protection measures remain in place.
The Atlantic Christian School in Egg Harbor Township made the decision to drop its mask mandate based on a decision of its board of directors, which in turn made its decision based on comments from administrators, teachers and parents. According to the school’s chief administrator, Karen Oblen, in an email sent to The Press, the school will still maintain regular staff and student check-ups and weekly coronavirus screenings for school employees. ‘school.
Egg Harbor Township schools also do not require masks, according to a Feb. 17 letter from Superintendent Kimberly Gruccio posted on the district’s website. Desktop screens will also be removed from classrooms and cafeterias, although students and staff can request to continue to have theirs.
The district made the decision after its school pandemic teams deliberated for two weeks. Gruccio urged parents to teach their children not to harass students over their choice of whether or not to wear a mask. (A Feb. 7 press release from the state says districts are supposed to discipline students who are bullied for choosing to wear a mask.)
Hamilton Township Superintendent Jeffery Zito, in a letter to parents, came to a similar conclusion. The district is dropping the mask mandate but promises to continue to monitor updated state guidelines, as well as guidelines and mandates from other local and federal agencies.
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Overwhelming feedback from students, staff and parents also led the Buena Regional School District to drop its mask mandate, Superintendent David Cappuccio Jr. said.
In Cape May County, 93 percent of staff and 83 percent of families at Avalon-Stone Harbor schools favored ending the term. Superintendent Kathleen Fox said the school will continue to practice social distancing and circulate fresh air whenever possible.
Other districts are still seeking community input, including Pleasantville Public Schools, which still has a link to a parent mask survey on its website.
The Ocean City School District pledged from the start to end its mask mandate as soon as the state allows it, according to Acting Superintendent Thomas Baruffi. COVID-19 cases will still be monitored and the district will follow preventive quarantine measures.
Commercial Township Superintendent Kristin Schell said the district has consulted with its Pandemic Response Team and is therefore abandoning its mask mandate. Other preventative measures from the school’s “safe in-person return” plan remain in place. Schell added that the district will not tolerate bullying based on mask use.
The district, on the advice of its pandemic response team, has stopped contact tracing in its schools.
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Katherine Hart, of Medford Lakes, Burlington County, who teaches special education classes for English and language arts, told The Press she was concerned that masks would prevent students from to learn. She said her son is non-verbal and hasn’t been to school because the district won’t give him a waiver for not wearing a mask. She was also skeptical about the effectiveness of masks in general.
Other readers commenting online also reveled in the end of the term. Some emphasized the importance of individual choice, as well as the use of other preventive measures.
“Personally, I think it’s up to each parent to decide. It seems difficult for children to be masked for hours trying to study,” Valeria Jean Marcus posted on Facebook. “However, maybe the remoteness and smaller classrooms could help. Hopefully the pandemic will end very very soon!
Some still, although happy to see the masks go, said they appreciated the role they were playing in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
“My grandson lives with me and my husband. We are all vaccinated and boosted. However, my longtime best friend in palliative home care is immunocompromised. If I get sick, I won’t be able to take care of her and support her husband,” one commenter said.
Governor Phil Murphy reaffirmed during his pandemic press conference on Wednesday his commitment to ending the mask mandate on March 7. He does, however, encourage schools to pay attention to the regional COVID-19 Activity Level Index, which may imply the need for a district to return to masking amid a COVID outbreak.
Contact Chris Doyle