NJ schools grapple with mask mandate during heatwave as temperatures hit 90 degrees

Schools without air conditioning in some or all of the classrooms face vexatious schedule choices with temperatures expected to reach around 90 degrees Monday and Tuesday.

With masks still required for everyone in school buildings due to COVID-19 protocols, sweltering conditions could lead to early layoffs or the switch to virtual learning in New Jersey.

In the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District, only three of the eight buildings where students attend classes are fully air conditioned, Superintendent John J. Marciante said Thursday.

Marciante, at the time, said it was too early to know what could be decided for Monday, the third day of the heatwave.

“It will be a building-by-building appeal,” said Marciante.

While enduring summer weather in a classroom without air conditioning was difficult before the pandemic, wearing masks and other coronavirus protection added to the difficulty.

“We can’t direct the fans,” Marciante said.

It’s an issue that surfaced just before students returned to class last September, with Madison in Morris County among school districts warning parents any heatwave could prompt a switch to distance learning. .

The New Jersey heat wave, which began on Saturday, came amid a push in some districts to lift indoor mask requirements in school buildings. New York State is ending his term as a school mask on Monday, although masks will remain mandatory in New York City school buildings.

Gov. Phil Murphy told reporters on Wednesday he was open to the possibility that masks might not be required in New Jersey in September, when the 2021-2022 school year begins. He previously said parents should plan to continue sending their children to school with face covers in September, as children under 12 remain ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Murphy’s Order in Council requiring masks in school buildings gives administrators some leeway. It lists nearly a dozen possible exceptions, such as when someone “is exposed to extreme heat outside”.

“The order includes a number of exceptions to the indoor mask requirement, including in situations where wearing a mask would inhibit the health of the child,” the spokesperson for Murphy, Alyana Alfaro.

The state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, has long called for air conditioning in all buildings.

“It is a shame that we still have school buildings that are unsafe, healthy and conducive to learning in hot weather,” said NJEA spokesperson Steve Baker.

“All cinemas, fast food outlets and mini markets in New Jersey are air conditioned. If we can afford to do this for the Slurpees, we can afford to do it for the students, ”said Baker.

Marciante said voters in Manalapan-Englishtown Regional have twice rejected air conditioning expansion plans, most recently in 2018.

“Unfortunately, the community has twice rejected referendums on school air conditioning. We take care of what we have to manage, ”he said.

A spokesperson for the state’s Education Department said any heat-related decision this week would be up to the school district.

“Local school districts decide whether to shut down facilities due to weather issues. Each case of school closures due to weather conditions is based on the individual circumstances of the district, ”said spokesperson Michael Yaple.

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Rob Jennings can be reached at [email protected].

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