First it was Wall Township. Then it was Holmdel. And now Toms River Board of Education, overseeing New Jersey’s seventh largest district, is demanding that Gov. Phil Murphy lift his mask mandate for students and teachers in schools.
At a raucous school board meeting Wednesday night, with a packed house of parents demanding their children be allowed to attend school unmasked, board president Joseph Nardini reassured the crowd he was with them, not against them. He read the letter he’s sending to the Governor’s office and the Education Department which says, in part, “local school districts should be allowed what is in the best interest of their students, and parents and guardians must be able to raise their children in the manner they deem appropriate. Parents and guardians enjoy a fundamental right to child-rearing autonomy.”
Toms River resident Rose Dunton described Murphy’s mask mandate as “tyrannical.” “This will be the hill our parents die on,” Dunton said. “Philip Murphy is not our baby daddy.”
“COVID is not our threat, but unchecked power is,” said Toms River resident Sergio Fossa. “… Defy the governor, defy his law. … Go to court, stand your ground, go to jail. … This is a war … because the prevailing powers have declared war against us.”
Toms River resident Kelly Lafrance urged the board to “lead us out from under this tyranny. … We could be the first district to say enough is enough,” and added that “our kids’ mental health is declining,” because of masks and other pandemic restrictions.
During the 2020-21 school year, Murphy left mask policies up to individual districts, citing local control. However earlier this month he issued a mask mandate for all students and teachers, lifting it very briefly during the hottest days and allowing for several exceptions if wearing a mask would impede a child’s health or, for instance, while a child is eating lunch.
Ocean County, where Toms River is located, is currently rated as “very high risk” for COVID transmission, with a 9.3% test positivity rate. Only 44% of the county’s residents are fully vaccinated.