NJEA chimes in on Murphy’s decision to end mask mandate, applauds shift of power to local school boards

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Unhappy and depressed child upset over COVID-19 rules in school.

TRENTON, NJ – The New Jersey Education Association, the largest teacher’s union in New Jersey today said it is “cautiously optimistic” about Governor Phil Murphy’s plan to drop the statewide school mask mandate on March 7th. The union however applauded Murphy’s decision to allow local school districts to continue enforcing mask mandates.

NJEA’s officers, President Sean M. Spiller, Vice President Steve Beatty and Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson, released this statement following Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement today that he intends to end the statewide masking mandate in schools on March 7, based on current COVID trends in New Jersey.

“We are encouraged by the data showing a rapid decline of COVID transmission in New Jersey. Because of that, we are cautiously optimistic that the current statewide school mask mandate can be safely relaxed in the near future, assuming current trends continue,” Spiller said. “As we have said from the beginning of the pandemic, it is critical to follow the data and listen to public health experts when implementing or removing COVID protocols. As of today, that data is trending strongly in the right direction, and we look forward to additional public health guidance supporting the move away from mandatory masking in schools.”

The decision to keep students masked or to unmask them now is in the hands of school board elected officials and school administrators and could be driven by local politics and not medical science once the statewide mandate ends March 7th.

“We urge Gov. Murphy to continue to analyze the data and do whatever is necessary to best protect the health and well-being of students and staff. That includes the possibility of maintaining or reimposing the mask mandate for schools after March 7 if the data indicate that is the correct course,” the NJEA said. “It is appropriate for Gov. Murphy to allow local districts to continue to require masking in communities where that is prudent based on local conditions.”

Now, the NJEA is asking the governor’s office for metrics and “clear guidelines” for local school districts to follow, even though the governor stated on Monday, that decision would no longer be made by the state or the New Jersey Department of Health. The NJEA also dropped a statement of COVID-19 misinformation in saying that the COVID-19 vaccination will prevent the spread of the virus. During the omicron wave of the virus, the CDC and State Department of Health conceded that the COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters do not prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but have been proven to reduce the severity of the virus in infected patients who are vaccinated and boosted.

“COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death,” the CDC said in a revised vaccination statement in December. “Most people who get COVID-19 are unvaccinated. However, since vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, some people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19.”

The CDC has also issued guidance revealing that cloth facemasks and improperly worn face masks are considerably less effective at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus than custom-fitted N95 respirators.

“Masks and respirators (i.e., specialized filtering masks such as “N95s”) can provide different levels of protection depending on the type of mask and how they are used. Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection,” the CDC said in January.

“We also urge Gov. Murphy to direct the Department of Health to provide clear guidelines and metrics for local districts to use as they decide whether to continue mandatory masking based on local conditions,” The NJEA said. “In addition, we continue to urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. It is clear that the more people in our school communities who are vaccinated, the safer everyone in those communities will be. That is also the best way to prevent a resurgence of COVID that could result in the need to reinstitute protocols, such as masking, that we are on the verge of being able to move beyond.”