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June 29, 2021

N.J. to lift COVID-19 mask mandate in schools this fall

Students will still be encouraged to practice social distancing as much as possible when full-time, in-person instruction resumes

When New Jersey students, teachers and staff return to the classroom for full-time, in-person learning this fall, face masks will no longer be required.

Barring any "dramatic change in our situation before the beginning of the school year," Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that the state will drop its COVID-19 mask mandate in schools when the 2021-22 academic year begins.

Instead, local school districts will be permitted to implement mask-wearing requirements as part of their own health and safety protocols for the upcoming school year. Students, teachers and staff may also continue wearing masks if they so choose.

Updated guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masks in schools is expected before the fall, Murphy said. The CDC advised universal wearing of masks in schools — except when eating or drinking — for all students, teachers and staff during the past academic year.

When New Jersey ended its indoor mask mandate last month, Murphy said that masks would still be required in elementary and high schools for the remainder of the 2020-21 academic year.

New Jersey's decision to drop its COVID-19 mask mandate in schools came as the state unveiled its health and safety guidance for the upcoming year on Monday.

Among the recommendations are the following:

• Maintaining physical distance between students as much as possible. Facing desks in the same direction and avoiding group seating settings are encouraged.
• Establishing protocols to identify and respond to a student or staff member who contracts COVID-19.
• Keeping close contact with local health departments in order to share information on COVID-19 transmission, prevention and control protocols and establish guidelines for notification and response to illness.
• Maintaining transparency and ongoing communication with staff, students and families regarding school operations and health and safety information.

Murphy said that the statewide guidance "will provide school districts with a roadmap to bring students and staff back to safe, enriching school environments."

"This guidance will help districts and educators develop plans to meet their student’s educational, social, emotional and mental health needs," Murphy said. "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."

State officials encouraged school districts to implement some in-person learning this past academic year, if conditions deemed it safe to do so.

But Murphy said in May that all school districts would be required to reopen for full-time, in-person learning this fall. An executive order signed last summer that allowed school districts to provide remote learning options amid the COVID-19 pandemic expired at the end of this past academic year.

Murphy's message has been echoed at the federal level, too. President Joe Biden repeatedly has urged all students to return to the classroom for in-person learning. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, has also called for all schools to resume full-time, in-person instruction.

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