Murphy: Masking in fall will be up to individual school districts

Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday afternoon that the state will leave the decision on masking of students to individual school districts. But, he noted, students are allowed to wear face masks if they choose — and schools cannot prevent them from doing so.

Murphy said updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on masking in the school setting is expected prior to the start of the 2021-2022 school year and will factor into the final recommendations for masking this fall. However, barring a significant change in health metrics, he said school districts will be able to determine masking policies at the local level.

The recommendation on masking was part of the guidance that Murphy and acting Department of Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan announced.

Murphy repeated that all public school districts in New Jersey are expected to provide full-time, in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. And, while the state released a number of recommendations, Murphy stressed that the inability to implement one or more of the recommendations should not be used as a reason to keep students virtual.

Schools are encouraged to implement as many layers as feasible, while providing full-time, in-person instruction, Murphy said.

The strategies and procedures include, but are not limited to:

  • Maintaining physical distance between students to the extent practicable: This recommendation must not prevent a school from offering full-time, in-person learning; districts should implement physical distancing only to the extent they are equipped to do so, while still providing regular, in-person school operations. Interventions to aid with social distancing include facing desks in the same direction and avoiding group seating arrangements.
  • Putting procedures in place to identify and respond to a student or staff member who becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms: Maintaining close communication with local health departments to share information and resources on COVID-19 transmission, prevention and control measures, and to establish procedures for notification and response to illness.
  • Transparency in communications: Schools should maintain transparent and ongoing communication, as appropriate, with their staff, students and caregivers regarding school operations and health and safety information.

“The recommendations we are releasing today will provide school districts with a roadmap to bring students and staff back to safe, enriching school environments,” Murphy said. “This guidance will help districts and educators develop plans to meet their student’s educational, social, emotional and mental health needs.

“Our students and educators have displayed amazing resiliency during the pandemic, and I am pleased that the upcoming school year will provide a sense of normalcy that students haven’t had since March 2020.”