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Indoor Masks Required at All NJ K-12 Schools, Murphy Says

K-12 students, as well as school staff and visitors, will be required to wear masks at the start of the 2021-2022 school year to protect themselves from the COVID-19 delta variant, as the number of COVID-19 cases rises throughout the state, Gov. Phil Murphy announced today.

At a press conference at Memorial Elementary school in East Brunswick, Murphy said, “Due to the recent and rampant spread of the delta variant, the fact that no child under the age of 12 is able to be vaccinated, and the reality that too many older students and their parents remain unvaccinated, all students, educators, staff and visitors will be required to wear masks inside school buildings regardless of vaccination status at the start of the new school year.

“This is not an announcement that gives any of us, or me, any pleasure,” the governor continued, “but as the school year approaches and with [COVID-19} numbers rapidly increasing, it is the one we need to make right now.”

The governor issued the mandate through Executive Order (EO) 251, which requires masking indoors at all public, private, and parochial preschool, elementary, and secondary school buildings, with limited exceptions. The EO is effective on Monday, Aug. 9.

Murphy did stress that schools will open for full-time, in-person instruction as he had previously announced, saying that children learn better in classroom settings.

He added, “The health and safety of our kids is among the most, if not the most, sacred responsibility for me as it is for any governor. … There are issues that must always remain above politics: This is one of them,” he said. “Anyone who tells you that we could safely open our schools without requiring everyone inside to wear a mask is quite simply lying to you.”

It was a little over a month ago that the governor said there would be no mask mandate for students and staff, leaving the decision to individual school districts.

At the same time, he has been warning that his position could change if there were to be a spike in coronavirus cases.

As of today, there were another 1,249 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state. On July 6, there were just 145 confirmed cases. As of yesterday, the state’s seven-day average for newly confirmed cases was 1,068, up 35% from last week and 367% from last month.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance last month recommending that K-12 students and staff wear masks because children under 12 are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine at this time.

While masks will be broadly required in school buildings for the coming school year, exceptions will remain unchanged from the 2020-2021 school year, and include:

  • When doing so would inhibit the individual’s health, such as when the individual is exposed to extreme heat indoors;
  • When the individual has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance;
  • When a student’s documented medical condition or disability, as reflected in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Educational Plan pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, precludes use of a face covering;
  • When the individual is under 2 years of age;
  • When an individual is engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating and drinking or playing an instrument that would be obstructed by the face covering;
  • When the individual is engaged in high-intensity aerobic or anerobic activity;
  • When a student is participating in high-intensity physical activities during a physical education class in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from others; or
  • When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.

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