Large City of NJ School District Ends COVID-19 Mask Mandate

Face masks are now optional in the Paterson Public School District.

The Paterson School Board voted 6-1 Wednesday night to end the local requirement, more than two months after Governor Phil Murphy lifted the statewide requirement for masks in school buildings to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The change to Paterson, which took effect Thursday morning, comes amid an increase in coronavirus cases in New Jersey. On Thursday, state health officials reported 12 COVID-19 deaths and 4,551 new confirmed positive tests, the highest number of new daily cases since Jan. 29.

That left Newark as the last remaining major school district with a mask requirement. East Orange made masks optional in schools on May 9. New Brunswick lifted its mandate as a local school district on May 2.

The resolution passed by the Paterson School Board authorizes Superintendent Eileen Shafer to reinstate the local mandate “at any time.”

Shafer spoke out in favor of making masks optional ahead of the council vote.

“We said two weeks after spring break we were going to revisit the issue,” Shafer said, referring to his prior opposition to the local term ending.

“District (COVID-19) cases are currently less than one case per school, per week, but we have up to 8 in any given school. Then we have some schools that don’t have any positive cases,” Shafer said.

“I recommend to the board that masks be optional. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can wear a mask, but it’s not mandatory,” Shafer said.

Paterson School Board member Jonathan Hodges, before voting for the only dissenting vote, asked Shafer if she had consulted with St. Joseph’s University Medical Center to prepare her recommendation.

Shafer said she didn’t, but spoke with Paterson’s health worker, Thakur “Paul” Persaud, and he agreed with making masks optional in schools. .

She also acknowledged the rise in cases, in New York and New Jersey, and that COVID-19 vaccination rates for students aged 5 to 11 — in response to another question from Hodges — were between 30 and 40%.

Hodges said he remained “personally concerned”.

“It’s not really a good medical approach, masks optional, when you have a worsening disease,” Hodges said.

Newark Schools Superintendent Roger León told NJ Advance Media on Friday that there is no set date for making masks optional in his district, which has about 38,000 students.

“Since the beginning of this global pandemic, we have put in place strict protocols, procedures and other precautionary measures for the COVID-19 district. In consultation with and based on guidance received from the Newark Department of Health, entry and exit procedures and mask requirements will remain in effect for the time being,” León said in a written statement provided by the district spokesperson.

“We will continue to monitor several factors in our ongoing fight against the coronavirus and to collaborate with our public health partners as we have done since the beginning. As soon as it is safe and appropriate to discontinue any or all mask protocols, procedures and requirements, we will communicate this to students, parents and the community,” León said.

With 25,000 students, Paterson has the fourth highest student enrollment rate in New Jersey. The school district relied on virtual learning for all students through the final two weeks of the 2020-21 school year due to the pandemic and spent nearly $20 million to improve air filtration. air and other security measures.

A member of the public spoke briefly in favor of lifting the masks during the 52-minute school board meeting on Wednesday. It was held virtually, like all Paterson School Board meetings since the pandemic began.

Shafer told the meeting that 89% of district employees and 82% of students, ages 11 to 17, have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Rob Jennings can be reached at [email protected].

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