Students who attend in-person classes at New Jersey’s schools will be required to wear masks unless they have medical exemption, Gov. Phil Murphy announced at his Monday news conference.
The requirement is a change in policy for the state Board of Education which previously said masks were required on school buses but only recommended at schools.
Other exemptions to the policy are if the students are in extreme heat, are in water, are eating or drinking and in some cases if they are participating in gym or music class and can socially distance.
Students have the option of remote learning, but three Democratic members of the Assembly introduced a bill last week calling for all New Jersey schools to reopen remotely. In-person learning would not be considered until Oct. 31 and would be reevaluated each month by the governor.
The public health data and the spread of COVID-19 would determine if schools could reopen, according to the bill.
The Assembly Health Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss the “public health aspects of school reopening during the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
Teachers in some school districts have held protests opposing the decision to return to in-person learning, according to news reports. Last week, a group of educators stood on the overpass near the Bergen Town Center mall with signs opposing in-person learning.
“We’ve heard from school administrators, medical professionals, educators, students, and parents on school reopening, and the common sentiment being expressed is the same – our schools lack the guidance and support needed to safely reopen,” said co-sponsor Pamela Lampitt, said D-Camden/Burlington), chair of the Assembly Education Committee in a statement last week.
At the same time, however, the impossibility of fully recovering from the economic downturn is weighing on officials, given that many parents would be prevented from fully returning to the workforce if their children remain at home instead of going back to school.
The 2020-21 school year is beginning at a time when the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing. The transmission rate has increased from 0.87 to 1.48 in a just a month, according to Murphy. The increase is attributed to the number of indoor gatherings.
Murphy decreased the limit on the number of people who can gather indoors to 25 percent of the room’s capacity and a maximum of 25 people. There are exceptions for religious services, funerals and weddings.
“Until we begin to see the numbers of cases decrease – not just for one day, but over at least a 7-day trend – and our rate of transmission drops appreciably over a sustained period of time, these new restrictions on indoor gatherings will remain in place” Murphy said.
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