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Toms River Regional School Board Asks Murphy to Allow Classrooms to Unmask

Gov. Phil Murphy delivers a press conference, April 2020. (Pool Photo: Rich Hundley/ The Trentonian

Gov. Phil Murphy delivers a press conference, April 2020. (Pool Photo: Rich Hundley/ The Trentonian

The coming 2021-2022 school year should be unmasked, wrote Toms River Regional School Board to the governor on May 25.

Asking Governor Phil Murphy to repeal his executive order pertaining to wearing masks in school, School Board President Joseph Nardini said the matter had the overwhelming support of his fellow board members.

“I write to you on behalf of the Toms River School Board in order to express the overwhelming opinion of my fellow board members and the tens of thousands of students and families who comprise this school district, which as you know is one of the largest in the state,” Nardini said.

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The board letter to the governor’s office asks Murphy to “relieve the district of the obligation to mask” and to not require students separate themselves based on their vaccination status.

“It is with respect and great hope for your sincere consideration that I request you repeal Executive Order 175 in time for the start of the 2021-2022 school year, and relieve our students, teachers, and staff members of the obligation to wear masks inside of school. Additionally, I ask that there be no separation of students based on vaccination status,” Nardini wrote, representing the school board.

At the school board recent meeting, the board approved its 2021-2022 school year calendar, and heard from in-person attendees who said it was time to not require masks in school. Today Mike Kenny, the school district’s Coordinator of the Office of Grants and Communication, shared the letter had been sent to the governor.

The reason for asking to unmask is based in science, wrote Nardini in the district’s letter. It does not represent an “anti-mask” sentiment, he said.

“In fact, it’s our community’s adherence to health and safety measures which
prompts this reasoned request. We’ve worked alongside our partners at RWJBarnabas Health to vaccinate our teachers, staff, and even students. We’ve consulted with the Ocean County Health Department and followed all state guidance throughout this pandemic. We’ve gone above and beyond with measures including desk dividers, additional PPE, air purifiers and, of course, a mask mandate. We even installed a Covid Counter for full transparency on our website,” Nardini’s letter continues.

The rates of transmission have dropped and the availability and rate of vaccinations has progressed locally that the walk-in appointments are now accepted at the county board of health vaccination site at RWJBarnabas Arena at High School North.

These statistics mean masks should not be required as they were previously during the pandemic, wrote the board.

“At this point, however, and certainly projecting to September, we believe masks are unnecessary. The vast majority of our staff have been fully vaccinated, and the risk that Covid-19 poses to our student population–many of whom will also be vaccinated heading into next year– is extremely low, and not inclusive of the more dramatic symptoms and health problems known to affect older adults,” Nardini wrote.

Central Regional School District Superintendent wrote Murphy last week in support of not requiring masks in schools and at the coming graduation events. “I am respectfully asking that you repeal executive order 175 so that students can breathe and then at graduation parents can see their child’s smiling face,” Superintendent Parlapanides said in his May 17 letter.

On May 25, Murphy was interviewed that he believes the coming school year will still have a requirement to mask, and recently the New Jersey Education Association teachers union spokesperson said it supported continued masking.

On Friday May 28, the state mandate of wearing a mask to enter restaurants, stores and other indoor spaces will end, as will the 6-foot social distancing requirement in all indoor and outdoor settings. Exceptions include schools, shelters, and public transportation.

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