As Weather Warms Up, Some South Jersey Schools Drop Mask Rules
With little more than a week left in the year for most South Jersey public schools, several local school districts have taken Gov. Phil Murphy's vague guidance about whether children should still be wearing masks in the classroom on warmer days as permission to make mask wearing optional for all - vaccinated or not - in any weather.
On Monday, during his latest coronavirus briefing in Trenton, Murphy said school officials had leeway on regulating mask wearing when student health was at risk.
“As a reminder to all schools officials, our current masking requirements do include exceptions for cases of extreme heat in outdoor settings and for situations indoors or outdoors where wearing a mask would inhibit the individual’s health. School officials are empowered to relax masking among students and staff in their buildings, given extreme weather conditions, and we hope they will make the right calls for their educational communities.”
Murphy last month lifted New Jersey’s mask mandates for most public places, though unvaccinated people are still strongly encouraged to keep wearing face coverings. However, masks are still required in schools and daycare under normal circumstances.
The governor has said masks continue to be required in schools because kids under 12 can’t be vaccinated yet and many who are old enough have yet to get the vaccination. Health officials have stressed that children can pass the virus on to older and more vulnerable people.
Within 24 hours, several South Jersey school districts had already eased mask restrictions or had made the wearing of masks completely optional by anyone, including students without vaccines. All of these schools hold classes in buildings that are air conditioned.
Parents in the Margate School system received a robo-call Monday night saying that mask wearing would be optional for all students and school personnel in class or around school grounds effective immediately.
Tuesday, Margate Superintendent of Schools Thomas Baruffi sent a letter further clarifying the school district's decision.
"And while we do have air conditioning, our students do take recess breaks and there are activities planned outside for the reminder of the school year that will cause the body temperature to rise and remain high when returning to the buildings....over the past 30 days, there have been only 2 positive cases of Covid in the entire city of Margate."
The Press of Atlantic City reports that Tuckerton Elementary School sent out a notice to parents early Tuesday that, beginning Thursday, masks will be optional.
"Although our building is well air-conditioned, we want to be sensitive to the weather conditions. Masks are still encouraged for those with health concerns who are unvaccinated but will no longer be mandatory until or unless we receive different guidance."
The Vineland School district posted a similar message on their Facebook page Tuesday.
Due to the Governor's announcement yesterday regarding face coverings, and the extreme heat that has impacted our HVAC Systems throughout the district, effective immediately, we are making face mask coverings optional for our staff and students while seated in the classroom or while outside of the school building for the remainder of the school year.
Masks will still be required while students and staff are passing in the hallway between classes and on school busses.