South Orange-Maplewood School District has just announced a strict mask policy—although officials would prefer that Gov. Phil Murphy issue an in-school mask mandate to spare them political pushback as Covid-19 rates surge in Essex County.
“Because we cannot guarantee that we can maintain social distance of three feet at all times, we will still offer our full, in-person instruction, but we have to use mitigation strategies, including masking and desk partitions where feasible,” Superintendent Ronald Taylor said in a video presentation on the reopening plan provided by the district.
Masks are required for all students and staff. Masks must cover the nose and mouth and be on at all times, except for lunch. Gaiters, bandanas, and masks with vents are prohibited. Masks will also be required for school buses. The only exception is if wearing a mask would ‘inhibit the individual’s health.
The district will try to offer “mask breaks” when there is enough room for social distancing.
Richard Bozza, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of Administrators, said last week that Gov. Murphy “should make a statewide decision on masks, one way or the other, rather than leaving it up to the districts.”
Currently the Covid-19 risk level in Essex County is “high.”
In other South Orange-Maplewood news, the school board held a retreat facilitated by the NJ School Boards Association and did a self-evaluation of the efficacy of individual members as well as the board as a whole. This has been a troubled year for the school board–as it has for many–with one member resigning for “lack of congeniality” and an “exclusive inner circle.” The Board and the administration also dealt with a series of confrontations with teacher union leaders and parents over school re-openings. Board member Johanna Wright said, during the discussion,
I think we probably are on the same page more so than we think that we are, but what I find is that we are a completely dysfunctional and rogue board…This is a board that bullies and the only way you bully a bully is to bully a bully back. It’s not good.
Board member Elissa Malespina added, “Questions in meetings are dismissed. People say, ‘you should have raised it sooner.’” She also stated that board members have said to her and to other members, “Well, we don’t really care what you say, because we don’t need your vote. We already have the votes.”
Johanna Wright said, “I think we’re going to need a retreat after the retreat after retreat. That’s how much trouble we’re in. And I think that unless we jump on it and we do the things that are necessary, it’s going to be bad.”