Updated: Feb. 08, 2022, 9:26 a.m. | Published: Feb. 07, 2022, 6:32 p.m.
Newark Public Schools, the largest district in New Jersey, will continue to require students to wear face masks even after the state mandate ends March 7, a school official confirmed to NJ Advance Media on Monday.
“The wearing of masks is part of the district’s protocols and we are maintaining our protocols,” said Newark schools spokeswoman Nancy Deering.
The district’s protocols also require employees and visitors to wear face masks while in buildings or on school grounds.
Deering said Newark Superintendent Roger León was unavailable Monday evening to comment further on the requirements. Deering said as of now, the district plans to maintain the mask requirement beyond the date the state plans to lift its mandate. Families will be notified of any policy changes, she added.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced earlier Monday that New Jersey will lift its long-standing statewide mask mandates inside schools and childcare facilities next month as COVID-19 numbers continue a “dramatic decline.”
The governor called it “a huge step back to normalcy for our kids.”
Murphy also extended the state’s current public-health emergency by another 30 days. Even after the state’s restrictions are lifted, New Jersey schools and districts will be allowed to continue requiring masks. In districts that don’t, the decision will be left to parents and guardians to make.
Once the in-school mask mandate is no longer in place, it will be the first time students across the Garden State will head to class maskless indoors since many districts reopened for in-person instruction in September 2020.
The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said in a statement Monday it was “cautiously optimistic” that the current statewide face mask mandate can be safely lifted, as long as case figures continue to fall.
The 1,490 coronavirus cases announced Monday are the fewest number of confirmed positive tests New Jersey has reported in a single day since Nov. 22, just before Thanksgiving. The state also reported another 15 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as the recent spike driven by the omicron variant continues to wane.
Of the state’s reported 1,843,337 cases and 31,987 deaths in the nearly 23 months since the pandemic began, Newark has confirmed over 76,000 cases and more than 1,100 deaths, according to an Essex County dashboard.
“As we have said from the beginning of the pandemic, it is critical to follow the data and listen to public health experts when implementing or removing COVID protocols,” the NJEA said. “As of (Monday), that data is trending strongly in the right direction, and we look forward to additional public health guidance supporting the move away from mandatory masking in schools.”
Some schools across the state have announced updates to their face mask requirements in line with the state.
“As COVID numbers continue to decline in New Jersey, Governor Murphy has announced an end to the state’s mask mandate for public schools. Students and staff will have the option to go maskless beginning March 7,” the Absecon Public School District said in an online post.
Nicole Santora, Superintendent of the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District, wrote in a letter to parents, students and staff Monday that masks will also be optional after March 7.
“We will continue social distancing as a mitigation strategy,” Santora said in the letter. “We will also continue to monitor our district data to ensure that changes in mitigation strategies do not adversely affect our ability to keep children healthy and in school.”
North Bergen Superintendent George Solter said the district will consult with the community and the township’s health department before deciding on next steps.