NJEA pledges to make unmasking children after March 7th as difficult as possible

5 mins read

TRENTON, NJ – When it comes to unmasking children in school in New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy said his statewide mandate will expire on March 7th. Just like that, the governor ended what he started almost two full years ago. But, the NJEA isn’t quite ready to quit school masks cold turkey.

On Monday, the state’s largest teacher’s union announced they will nickle and dime the state and local school boards and districts who will have the final say on the matter after March 7th, at a local level.

Or will they?

The NJEA is now calling on the state to define clear and concise data metrics that will strip the power from the local school boards and put the decision to mask back into the hands of the New Jersey Department of State and the Health. The union called for a process of medical guidance and scientific benchmarks that will dictate to the local boards when their students should and shouldn’t mask up.

The union said it was “cautiously optimistic” about Murphy’s call to end the mask mandate, but also hinted that the politically powerful union isn’t about to give up the fight.

“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,” NJEA President Sean M. Spiller said. “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.”

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Spiller applauded the governor’s decision to allow local school boards to decide their path, but also said Governor Murphy and the Department of Health should provide those boards with clear guidelines and metrics for when they can unmask their children, removing the local home rule of the boards and having them simply take the heat, not Phil Murphy for being forced to continue the mask requirements locally….based on science, of course.

“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. 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,” Spiller said.

Spiller also hinted that the union might play the vaccination hand when it comes to forcing local districts and their ability to decide when to unmask. Politically, it appears the NJEA is now working behind the scenes with the Governor’s office to create a set of rules and benchmarks to be used that will undoubtedly make many school districts ineligible based on data and vaccination rates to unmask.

While many in New Jersey have celebrated a victory in the battle against student mask mandates, the war may not only have just begun, it could start to get very ugly at the local level as some towns unmask and some don’t. It will be interesting to see how the NJEA and Phil Murphy navigate themselves politically out of the mask mandate battle and throw local school districts into utter chaos.

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“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,” Spiller said.