By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor
TRENTON, N.J. — On Friday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced his intention to require all individuals in schools to wear masks when the new academic year begins next month. The executive order will officially take effect on Monday and applies to all public, private, and parochial preschool, elementary, and secondary school buildings throughout the state with some exceptions.
The decision is a reversal from New Jersey’s previous stance on mask-wearing in schools. Initially, the state planned to allow school districts to make decisions about mask-wearing individually. However, the change of heart comes as the Delta variant of COVID-19 caused a recent uptick in cases throughout not just New Jersey, but all of the United States.
“We understand that students learn best in a classroom setting and remain committed to having our schools open for full-time, in-person instruction this fall,” Gov. Murphy said Friday. “While this announcement gives us no pleasure, I know that by taking this precaution we can keep our schools open while also keeping our children safe. We will continue to closely monitor the science and data and will lift this mandate when we can do so safely. I urge those who are eligible for vaccination but have yet to be vaccinated to act and help move our state in the right direction.”
There are a number of exceptions to the mask mandate for schools that remained unchanged from the 2020-21 academic year. Students, faculty, and staff in schools don’t have to wear masks in any of the following circumstances:
- When a mask would inhibit the individual’s health, such as when the individual is exposed to extreme heat indoors
- When a person has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance
- When a student’s documented medical condition or disability, as reflected in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Educational Plan pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, precludes use of a face covering
- When a person is younger than two years old
- When a person is engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating and drinking or playing an instrument that would be obstructed by the face covering
- When a person is engaged in high-intensity aerobic or anaerobic activity
- When a student is participating in high-intensity physical activities during a physical education class in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of six feet from all other individuals
- When wearing a mask creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task
As of Sunday evening, New Jersey’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases was 1,243, which is the 23rd-highest in the nation. The Delta variant has particularly hit some southern states hard, and the United States’ seven-day average of new cases topped 100,000 over the weekend. New cases in the Garden State are up 89% over the last two weeks.
Although individuals in schools have to wear masks for the time being, New Jersey hasn’t wavered from its commitment to fully reopening schools for the 2021-22 academic year. The state also hasn’t reintroduced a universal mask mandate yet, but it’s “strongly” encouraging all residents to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
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