As the New Jersey mask mandate in public schools came to an end, nearly every school district in North Hudson made the wearing of masks optional.
Dr. George Solter, Superintendent of Schools of the North Bergen school district, said the district was making masks optional after monitoring the Covid Activity Level Index (or CALI).
As a result of being in the “green” level of the index, which means low positivity rates, the wearing of masks is now optional in the district. Additionally, the CDC has recommended that masks can be optional on school buses.
Masks can still be worn if chosen. And there will be times when masks will be required to be worn by students and staff.
“For example, if someone tested positive, they are required to quarantine for five days,” Solter said in a video announcement. “Upon returning to school they must then wear a mask on days six to 10. If a student cannot wear a mask, that student must quarantine for days six thru 10, and return to school on day 11.”
Additionally, if a non-fully vaccinated student is exposed, that student with a parent’s consent can choose to test each day in the nurse’s office to stay in school, but a mask will be required for those five days. If consent is not given to receive a daily rapid test, the child must quarantine at home for five days.
While masks are now optional, the district continues to require each student to complete a daily health screening questionnaire.
“I want to thank the students, parents, and staff members for these last two years as we moved in many different directions to provide the best possible education for the children based on the changing guidelines,” Solter said.
According to Solter, if the CALI moves to Orange or Red, the mask mandate may be reinstated.
Union City also joined the other North Hudson school districts in making masks optional, according to Superintendent of Schools Silvia Abbato.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Union City School District, in collaboration with Mayor Brian Stack, has diligently followed the recommendations of medical experts and will continue to do so,” Abbato said in a letter to the community. “Therefore, beginning on March 7, the wearing of masks will be optional in all school district buildings and vehicles.”
The district will continue to practice other appropriate safety measures, including: social distancing, regular cleaning and disinfecting of school buildings; the Test-to-Stay program, which test students exposed to the virus to allow them to remain in schools if they test negative; the Test-to-Play program, which requires all students and staff members participating in sports and higher-risk activities to be tested once per week; and requiring masks under certain circumstances, such as for individuals returning from quarantine.
“Under no circumstances should any individual be subject to pressure, coercion, or other attempts to influence decisions regarding the wearing of masks,” Abbato said. “The district will take swift disciplinary action to prevent bullying relating to an individual’s choice to continue or discontinue wearing a mask.”
The district reserves the right to reinstate the mask mandate at any time
“should government recommendations or community health data change,” according to Abbato.
“Thank you for your support, particularly following the recommended safety protocols, over the past two years,” she said. “We ask that you continue to practice those protocols as we move forward.”
The Secaucus school district also made masks optional after surveying the community, according to Acting Superintendent of Schools Daniela Riser.
Nearly zero cases of COVID-19, “in combination with the data from the staff and parent surveys, and the guidance from our health officials, has resulted in our transition to a “mask-optional” stance starting on March 7th,” Riser said in a weekly district health assessment.
Riser also rebutted claims that the mandates resulted in children not doing well in school made on social media following the results of the Start Strong Assessment.
“There has been chatter on social media about how the district is ‘failing our kids’ and how the ‘mandates’ we ‘choose’ to follow are causing our children to do poorly in school,” Riser said. “The Start Strong Assessment is not a summative assessment of student learning following a period of instruction. It is a much shorter test and does not cover the full breadth and depth of the NJSLS; nor does it include all of the same item types as the statewide summative assessment, the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA), which students will be taking in the Spring.
“The Start Strong Assessment produces classroom-level information as a standards-based complement to the resources used locally to evaluate the needs of students. Just because the results indicate that some students are in need of additional support in subject areas, does not mean that they are failing and the district is not doing its job in educating them. There are many districts facing similar challenges and although that is not an excuse, it is where we currently stand and we will continue to work to improve and research best practices.”
The Guttenberg School District, which only contains the Anna L. Klein School, made masks optional as well, according to Superintendent Dr. Michelle Rosenberg.
“The Guttenberg School District will practice ‘Mask Optional’ protocols, for both staff and students,” Rosenberg said in a letter to the community. “It is the parent/guardian’s choice, if they wish for their child to continue to wear a mask in school.”
According to Rosenberg, there will be certain circumstances in which a child must continue to wear a mask, including: if a child is showing signs of illness, cold, cough, runny nose, congestion, COVID or flu-like symptoms; if students are in close proximity, in large numbers more than 100 students, where it is impossible to separate students more than three feet apart; if a child had COVID-19, when they return to school on day six they must wear a mask through day 10 after diagnosis.
All students are encouraged to keep a few extra masks in their lockers and or backpacks at all times in the event that they may be required to wear them, according to Rosenberg. The district also has a stock of masks on hand for these such occurrences.
“We hope that we can continue to reduce the number of cases in our area,” Rosenberg said. “If you have not already done so, please consider vaccinating your child if they are medically able to do so.”
West New York
According to West New York Superintendent of Schools Clara Brito Herrera, the district is also making masks optional.
“Due to the significant drop of the virus transmission in our community and based upon the guidance of agencies listed above, masks will be optional in district buildings in vehicles,” Brito Herrera said in a letter to the community. “Be assured, the West New York School District will continue to follow all Centers for Disease Control, New Jersey Departments of Health and Education, and the West New York Board of Health COVID-19 protocols.”
The district also reserves the right to reinstate the mask mandate “should public health data change,” according to Brito Herrera.
“Please continue to follow all heath guidelines and protocols as you have done,” she said. “The West New York School District would like to thank all of our families and students for following all protocols and helping us get to where we are today.”
While Weehawken Superintendent of Schools Eric Crespo could not immediately be reached for comment, he previously expressed that the district would end its mask mandate on March 7 if COVID-19 data supported the move.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.