NJ’s largest schools will require masks for the new school year

While most of the state has seemingly abandoned COIVD-19 restrictions, including mask mandates, two of New Jersey’s largest education systems are expected to require students and staff to mask up for new school sessions.

Rutgers University and the Newark Public School System will still require students and staff to mask up indoors. (The Newark Board of Education meets on Thursday, August 25, but the mask issue is not on the published agenda)

New Jersey Congresswoman Beth Sawyer, R-Gloucester, called Rutgers’ policy “embarrassing” and said the policy flies in the face of science.

The university announced that the mask policy will remain in effect for all classrooms and libraries for unvaccinated students and staff.

“The CDC says it is illogical to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated due to breakthrough infections and the high level of Covid immunity acquired from past infections,” Sawyer said in a press release.

Newark appears poised to continue its universal masking policy for all students and staff, regardless of their vaccination status. They were the only school district in New Jersey not to ease mask restrictions when Gov. Phil Murphy lifted his mask mandate before the end of last school year.

It looks like Newark will be the only school district to require masks to start the new year in September, although masks are voluntary in each district.

Newark Teachers Union supports masking policy and cited Rutgers policy in an interview with NJ.com.

“A certain percentage are super frustrated,” Union President John Abeigon said, “But I have to remind them that we’re not the only place that still requires masks.”

At first glance, the policies of both institutions appear to run counter to current established standards, but they are consistent with existing CDC guidelines.

According to the CDC, people should mask up in any county with “high” community transmission rates.

Seven counties in New Jersey are currently listed as having a “high” transmission rate on the CDC Data Tracker: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Essex, Middlesex and Monmouth.

Rutgers has campuses in Essex, Middlesex and Camden counties.

Newark is in Essex County.

According to CDC guidelines, schools should require students and staff to wear a mask in all counties listed above. We don’t know of any additional schools that need it, in these or other unlisted counties.

Governor Murphy hasn’t said much about the issue, nor has his education commissioner. The state appears willing to allow each individual district to continue to make their own decisions about masking and other COVID precautions.

Eric Scott is the senior policy director and anchor of New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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