New Jersey

Migraines? Learning Issues? NJ Parents' School Mask Rule Frustrations Spill Out Friday

Gov. Phil Murphy was the last of the three tri-state governors to lift his state's indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people, but that doesn't apply to schools at this point

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What to Know

  • Parents at an Assembly Republican hearing on school mask policy Friday called on Gov. Phil Murphy to lift the face covering rule, saying it impairs their kids' ability to learn in various ways
  • Gov. Phil Murphy was the last of the three tri-state governors to lift his state's indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people, but that doesn't apply to schools at this point
  • In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration had looked at lifting in-school mask mandates earlier this week but pulled the reins because the CDC isn't expected to change its guidance this month

Frustrated parents on Friday called on New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to relax mandates for mask-wearing in schools across the state, while some parents in New York remain frustrated by this week's sudden reversal of a looming policy change.

Murphy, the last of the three tri-state governors to lift the statewide indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people in most cases (that excludes schools and other settings designated by the CDC), has said that at this point, he expects kids will still be required to wear masks in most grade levels come fall. That is subject to change and is by no means a rule right now; it's just that many kids aren't eligible for shots.

A number of parents aren't pleased. They want to end the in-school mandate right now, considering such education facilities have shown consistently lower COVID-19 rates than their surrounding communities for months.

A Friday Assembly Republican hearing on masks in schools featured testimony from mothers and at least one school nurse who raised concerns that face coverings take a social and psychological toll on pupils.

They also said it could make it particularly hard for younger children to learn since they can't read teachers' lips and their peers' facial expressions.

A schools superintendent is on leave after refusing to drop a mask mandate. Brian Thompson reports.

The most emotional part of the hearing came when Brienne Zilinski played an audio recording of her young daughter, who had come home distraught over not being able to understand her friends through their masks. Through crying, she also tells her mother she has migraines from wearing a mask.

Others questioned the scientific basis for wearing masks, while more asked whether, particularly younger pupils, can correctly wear a mask all day at school.

The hearing lacked testimony from health officials and others who advise and support mask-wearing at schools. The CDC recommends the “consistent and correct” use of a mask for students and staff at schools to prevent viral spread.

That's not expected to change before the end of this academic year for most, which is why New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo pulled the reins on a plan to eliminate in-school mask mandates for all, regardless of vaccination status, earlier this way.

Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said he was willing to hold a hearing next week for people supportive of masks. He pointed out none of those people signed up to speak Friday.

Bramnick said he thought the people at Friday's hearing deserved to have their questions answered by the state's top health official and Murphy.

“All I'm saying to you is let them speak and let them have a response from the commissioner or the governor,” he said in a phone interview after the hearing.

The issue has emerged as political, though it's not clear it breaks down neatly on party lines.

Republicans held Friday's hearing without the attendance of the Democratic majority, and the GOP has been skeptical of some COVID-19 countermeasures — like the closure of businesses and in some cases mask wearing. But one woman said Friday she was a registered Democrat and opposed the mandate and Murphy.

Big COVID restrictions dropped in New Jersey on Friday, joining that of nearby New York and Connecticut. NBC New York's Sarah Wallace reports.

Last week in Trenton as lawmakers debated a bill to end the public health emergency stemming from COVID-19, dozens of parents rallied at the statehouse, calling for officials to “unmask” children.

Many also carried signs of Republican candidates who were seeking the GOP nomination for governor, which took place Tuesday. Similar protests have played out on Long Island in New York in recent weeks.

Murphy, a Democrat like Cuomo, said this week that school districts can use their judgment to relax mask mandates, particularly in cases of extreme heat.

Alyana Alfaro Post, the governor's spokesperson, reiterated in an email Friday that the mask order the governor signed aligns with CDC recommendations.

“The Order includes a number of exceptions to the indoor mask requirement, including in situations where wearing a mask would inhibit the individual child’s health,” she said.

There's been no official decision yet from Murphy's administration on whether masks will be required in schools in the fall. He has already said children will not be required to wear face masks outdoors at summer camps, adding that indoor masking for unvaccinated campers will be "strongly encouraged this summer."

New York has also said kids and staff are encouraged but not required to wear masks indoors and out, regardless of vaccination status, at camps this summer.

Starting Monday, indoor masks will no longer be required for anyone in New York schools and camps statewide regardless of vaccination status pending any CDC objection, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says. NBC New York's Andrew Siff reports.
Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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