Noting the significant decline of statewide COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Phil Murphy announced early last week that masks and facial coverings will no longer be mandated for students, staff, or visitors in schools and childcare centers effective March 7.
“I must thank the overwhelming majority of students, parents, administrators, educators, and support staffers who have worn their masks without problem or protest since our schools reopened for in-person learning. Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids,” said Murphy. “Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate.”
School districts and childcare facilities can continue to implement universal masking policies after the mandate is lifted in March. Schools that do not impose universal masking should revise their COVID policies to utilize masking among other prevention strategies under certain circumstances.
Schools will not be permitted to bar the use of facial coverings by individuals and will be expected to take disciplinary action in instances of bullying should they arise due to an individual’s choice to continue wearing a mask. Prior to the mandate being lifted, the Department of Health will release guidance to help school districts update their policies to align with the risks and unique needs of their setting and student population to ensure safe learning environments.
“The Department will develop guidance that incorporates all aspects of safety in schools while children are unmasked,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “We know that every parent wants to do what’s best for their children.”
Murphy and the Department of Health continue to encourage parents of school-aged children age five and over to vaccinate children against COVID-19.