Dickinson High School Jersey City 16x9

Weekly testing of unvaccinated employees and daily temperature checks of all students and staff to continue

Masks will be optional for students, staff, and visitors to the Jersey City Public Schools as of Monday, March 7, Acting Superintendent Norma Fernandez announced in a video this week.

The decision follows Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement last month that the statewide mandate requiring face coverings in schools and childcare centers would be lifted on this same date, leaving the decision on masking to individual facilities and districts.

The governor cited “the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population” in his statement.

“Masks and facial coverings will be optional and a matter of personal choice,” Fernandez said.

While masks will not be required as of Monday, the superintendent affirmed “no student, visitor or staff member will be penalized for exercising the option of continuing to wear a mask or facial covering.”

The mask-optional policy applies to both school buildings and school buses, according to Fernandez.

There is, however, a chance the district would reimpose its masking requirement should Covid cases rise.

“In the event that the district transmission levels as measured by the CALI [Covid-19 Activity Level Index] reports is high… and based upon updated guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Department of Health and the CDC, we will consider the need to reinstitute mandatory universal masking.”

Other safety protocols will continue to be in place in the district, the acting superintendent said. These include weekly testing of unvaccinated employees, daily temperature checks of all students and staff, and isolating students and staff who test positive for the virus. In addition, the district will continue to make weekly Covid testing available for students at all Jersey City public schools.

While some parents of Jersey City public school students were in favor of Murphy’s ending the school masking mandate, a parent spoke at the school board’s Feb. 22 caucus meeting to encourage the district not to end their face covering requirement at this time.

“What I want to implore this board is to not undo all the successes of the past two years of prudent decision making, by spiking the ball at the five-yard line,” said Deborah Mack.

Many students have siblings aged 6 months to five years who cannot yet be vaccinated for Covid-19, Mack said.

The rollout of a Pfizer vaccine for this age group has been delayed for at least two months as the FDA awaits more data.

“While I can choose to avoid going into businesses or restaurants that have eliminated their mask mandate, I cannot choose to not send my older son to school if such a decision is made there,” Mack said. “What’s the harm in continuing it for two to three more months until all those who want to be vaccinated have had the chance?”

Andrea Crowley-Hughes is a writer and media maker motivated by chronicling and sustaining communities. Her reporting on education, sustainability and the restaurant industry has recently been featured...