Brick public school students returned to school on a full-time, in-person basis Tuesday, but concerns linger over a state policy that requires them to wear face masks through much of the school day.
After concerns over wearing masks to school – especially during the hottest part of the academic year – were brought up at a Board of Education meeting recently, officials began advocating for local control of mask policies. New Jersey is one of just two states that is continuing mask mandates in some form, though most have expired or will expire June 5. There is no indication, however, that the school mask mandate will terminate.
In Brick, officials released an open letter to Gov. Phil Murphy asking for local control over mask policies, but stopped short of advocating for an outright end to the mandate.
“We weathered the pandemic with leadership, collaboration, and communication with all stakeholders of the district,” Board of Education President Stephanie Wohlrab wrote in the letter.
“The vast majority of Brick Schools staff has been vaccinated, and continue to be diligent with practicing the most up-to-date NJDOE/NJDOH/CDC-recommended protocols,” the letter went on to say. “As has been the case, Brick Schools has operated in compliance with all state mandates. However, Brick Schools now believes that we are at the point when the state masks mandate at schools should be responsibly re-evaluated and left up to local decision-making.”
Last week, Murphy doubled down on mask mandates in schools, telling residents to expect mask mandates to continue into the 2021-22 school year that begins in September. The influential New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union and strong Murphy ally, has collectively stated that mask mandates should remain in place. Murphy is seeking re-election in November. Murphy attributed his support for school mask mandates to the fact that children under 12 years of age are not eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Brick schools superintendent Thomas Farrell said an “evidence-based process,” examining data from the CDC, plus state and county health departments, should educate decisions on the local level.
“This evidence-based process, aligned to the data from the Covid-19 NJ Risk Matrix, provides us the confidence that in Brick Township, our students will be best-served by the state providing us with the ability to, as a district, responsibly evaluate and implement mask-wearing protocols for staff and students,” Farrell wrote. “I will always advocate for what I believe is in the best interest of our students and staff in Brick, while understanding our obligations as a public school district to continue to follow regulations and guidelines.”
“While there was once a need for state mandates and control to ensure the safety of our NJ communities, that stage is over,” Wohlrab wrote in a latter portion of the open letter. “It is time for the Governor to return the decision-making authority for our school districts back where it rightfully belongs – locally!”
The full text of the letter appears below.