Masks will not be mandatory in New Jersey’s schools in the upcoming academic year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday, but school districts can decide to require masking as part of their own protocols. All public school districts in New Jersey are expected to provide full-time, in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year.

Murphy said any updated CDC guidance on masking prior to the start of the 2021-2022 school year would factor into final recommendations from the State for masking this fall. But barring a significant change in health metrics, school districts will be able to determine masking policies at the local level. Regardless of the district’s policy on masking, schools cannot prevent students or staff from wearing masks if they choose.

In May, the Center for Disease Control said fully vaccinated people could stop wearing masks indoors. Now, concerns over the Delta variant have seen a reconsideration of mask guidelines in places like Los Angeles. The Delta variant is more transmissible and expected to become the dominant variant in the U.S.

Besides leaving masking to individual districts, guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner include include health and safety recommendations that provide strategies to reduce risks to students and staff from COVID-19, while still prioritizing full-time, in-person learning.

“This guidance will help districts and educators develop plans to meet their student’s educational, social, emotional and mental health needs,” Murphy said. “Our students and educators have displayed amazing resiliency during the pandemic, and I am pleased that the upcoming school year will provide a sense of normalcy that students haven’t had since March 2020.”

The strategies below are recommendations, not mandatory standards. The absence of one or more of these strategies should not prevent school facilities for opening for full-day, in-person operation. Schools are encouraged to implement as many layers as feasible while providing full-time in-person instruction.

The strategies and procedures include, but are not limited to:

  • Maintaining physical distance between students to the extent practicable. This recommendation must not prevent a school from offering fulltime in-person learning; districts should implement physical distancing only to the extent they are equipped to do so while still providing regular in-person school operations.
  • Interventions to aid with social distancing include facing desks in the same direction and avoiding group seating arrangements.
  • Putting procedures in place to identify and respond to a student or staff member who becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Maintaining close communication with local health departments to share information and resources on COVID-19 transmission, prevention, and control measures and to establish procedures for notification and response to illness. Schools should also maintain transparent and ongoing communication, as appropriate, with their staff, students, and caregivers regarding school operations and health and safety information.

“While this guidance will help schools plan for Fall, the best way to keep schools open and safe is to get vaccinated,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Now is the time for parents of children between the ages of 12 and 17 to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment to allow enough time for that second shot before school starts.”