BELMAR, NJ — Before this week’s heat wave gave school districts throughout New Jersey a brief reprieve from the state’s school mask mandate, Belmar Board of Education joined the growing list of school boards asking Gov. Phil Murphy to drop the requirement.
In a June 1 letter, School Board President Cheri Adams cited the state’s improving coronavirus metrics and the removal of the mask mandate in most public places in making the district’s case.
“As the number of vaccinated individuals increases and the number of cases decreases, the state is moving in the right direction. We have now reached the point where masks are no longer mandated outside or inside in almost all settings with few exceptions, like health care facilities, public transportation and schools,” the letter states. “Over the last few months, hundreds of people have been sitting maskless indoors in restaurants, while our children have been wearing masks six hours a day, seated at their desks, which are spaced at least three feet apart. The weather is getting warmer and our school does not have air conditioning. We are concerned with the continued well-being of our students and staff.”
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Since the letter was sent, heat concerns have triggered an early dismissal at Belmar Elementary School for the remainder of the school year, with the last day of classes being June 17. Despite the cool-down at the end of the week, temperatures in the school’s third-floor classrooms were still reaching 80 degrees, according to an alert on the school’s website.
The topic of masking was brought up at the school board’s May 27 meeting by member Rebecca Herbert, who expressed her concerns that the practice has had detrimental effects on students, prompting a board vote to write Murphy expressing its support to lift the mandate.
Earlier this week as temperatures reached the 90s in most of the state, Murphy addressed the issue at his June 7 coronavirus press briefing, reminding school districts they had the option of having students go maskless under certain conditions.
“Our current masking requirements do include exceptions for cases of extreme heat in outdoor settings and for situations indoors or outdoors where wearing a mask would inhibit the individual’s health,” he said. “School officials are empowered to relax masking among students and staff in their buildings given extreme weather conditions, and we hope they will make the right calls for their educational communities.”
Murphy has not made a decision on whether the mask order will be lifted by the beginning of the new school year in September — triggering in recent days a wave of controversy throughout the state over the issue, particularly since the governor has lifted the mask mandate for the general public.
“All of us want to get to the place, sooner than later, that our kids are not wearing masks,” he said during his June 9 press briefing. “Trust me, there’s no underlying reason we want that to continue. I would just hope that folks together have some patience that we continue to make these decisions based on CDC guidance.”
Murphy also has indicated that he may keep the mandate in place until children under age 12 become eligible for the COVID-10 vaccine.
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