Gov. Phil Murphy: ‘Masking in schools’ likely next fall for N.J. students under 12

The education department says it has a comprehensive strategy to curb the spread of COVID within schools next year. The strategy includes two air purifiers in each classroom along with mandated masking and social distancing.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday that students under 12 will likely wear masks and follow other COVID-19 safety protocols in school for the 2021-22 school year. In the photo, a girl at a Connecticut elementary school wears a mask at her desk that has a protective barrier on it. (Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action)

Mask requirements and other COVID-19 safety protocols will likely stay in place for students under 12 this fall, Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday, offering a glimpse of guidance for the 2021-22 school year expected to be released next month.

“We will have masking in schools in the fall as a result of that,” Murphy said Tuesday in response to a question on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that relayed some parents’ concerns for safety for pre-teen students. 

Drug companies are currently testing if the COVID-19 vaccine is effective for children under 12. Earlier this month, children ages 12-15 became eligible to take the vaccine. Last month, vaccines were approved for those over 16.

“I would suspect we will continue with some of the public health protocols inside the classroom and inside the school buildings,” Murphy said. 

The governor has said that all New Jersey students must return to school in-person five days a week starting next school year. The state Department of Education is expected to release guidance for the 2021-22 academic year in June, Murphy said.

There are still many unanswered questions about what school will look like in the fall. If social distancing is still in place, for example, many Newark schools would need to somehow reduce class sizes and acquire more space if all students must be accommodated.

As of Tuesday, 1% of 12- to 15-year-olds and 1% of 16- to 17-year-olds made up the statewide total of people who have had at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

So far, about 3.9 million people are fully vaccinated in New Jersey, which aims to vaccinate 70% of the population, or 4.7 million people, by the end of June.

Murphy earlier this week announced the mask mandate would be lifted starting Friday with some exceptions, including schools, summer camps and childcare centers. 

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