Mask mandate could force a return to remote learning in NJ
Just as the current school year winds down and the majority of kids are back in classrooms for in-person learning, they could be forced to go back to remote learning. Many schools do not have air conditioning, and with the current heat wave and kids being forced to wear a mask, school officials may be making the decision to close some buildings in the interest of student health.
The superintendent of the Manalapan-Englishtown school district, John Maciante, said it will be a building-by-building call for them. A spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education told NJ.com the state will not get involved in those calls, and the decision will be up to each individual district.
Schools have the option to close due to adverse weather conditions. Often used during the winter, schools can also close for other weather reasons, including excessive heat. Typically that doesn't happen, even in buildings without air conditioning. Industrial fans are often used to keep the air moving and cool things down, but that's not an option in a COVID world.
Forcing kids to mask up in excessive heat is underscoring the frustrations for many school districts trying to deal with a mask mandate they say is highly contradictory. Students can take the mask off for close contact one-on-one sports, like wrestling, but then have to put the mask back on to go to class.
A growing number of school superintendents have written directly to Governor Murphy to ask him to lift the mandate. While he has indicated its a possibility kids could shed the masks in the Fall, he has not budged on the mask mandate for the current school year.
There is a possible exemption. Murphy's executive order says you can forgo a mask in school when anyone is exposed to "extreme heat outdoors." It's not clear if that would apply to being indoors. However, situations where wearing a mask "would inhibit the individual child's health" is spelled out as another exception. It remains unclear if schools will try and test those exceptions during this weeks heatwave or under other circumstances before the end of the current school year.