BY ELLA KIETLINSKA June 24, 2021 Updated: June 24, 2021biggersmallerPrint
New Jersey Assemblymen and Senators introduced in early June a bill in both chambers of the state legislature to stop school mask mandates. The bill has been sponsored by three Republican Assembly members and 11 Republican Senators.
The measure (pdf) stipulates that students in elementary or secondary schools must not be required to wear a face mask while in indoor or outdoor areas of the school or on a school bus. It does not however prohibit students from wearing masks in school if they choose to. The measure applies to both public and private schools in New Jersey.
The requirement to wear masks in almost all public places in New Jersey was lifted by Governor Phil Murphy in May but the mandate to wear masks for children while on school premises remained in place.
Murphy justified the mandate by saying that no vaccine for COVID-19 has been available yet for children under 12 and stated that very likely the requirement will continue into the fall when the next school year starts, according to New Jersey 101.5.
Bill sponsors, Assemblymen Greg McGuckin, John Catalano, and Senator Jim Holzapfel, all representing the same district in New Jersey, criticized the governor’s mandate saying that children are the least impacted group by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, according to a joint statement by the sponsors.
“Parents should have a choice as to whether or not their child wears a mask in school,” Holzapfel said.
“Under our bill, the students, without their masks, would be in a better position to make up for the lost classroom time,” McGuckin said.
“If the Governor is reluctant to let school kids drop their masks, our bill would take this important step toward normalizing the educational environment,” Catalano added.
New Jersey Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger (R), who co-sponsored the bill last week said in a statement, “For over a year, we have received conflicting recommendations regarding mask usage in schools; including questionable efficacy and value in preventing COVID-19 transmission … but we have received firsthand, factual accounts of how detrimental they have been to students, especially those with special needs.”
“Like all medical-related decisions, this should be up to the individual, and in this case the parents as well as school staff to decide whether wearing a mask during the school day is appropriate—not bureaucrats with limited understanding of the effects,” Scharfenberger said.
Senator Joe Pennacchio (R), a co-sponsor, said in a statement, “Like other District Offices, my staff has been deluged by calls from irate mothers and fathers who say they should be the ones making the decision whether their child wears a mask to school or to summer camp.”
Pennacchio pointed out that forcing children to wear masks outside in 90-degree weather is cruel, insensitive, and “does more harm than good.”
Senator Holly Schepisi (R) called on Gov. Murphy to lift the mask mandate for children.
“Data has consistently shown that the levels of COVID-19 transmission outdoors are extremely low,” Schepisi said in a statement, adding that “at the end of last summer, the NJ Commissioner of Health reported that with 746 active camps in the State only one camper tested positive for COVID.”
New Jersey Senate Republicans posted a petition on their website urging Gov. Murphy to unmask children. The petition has been signed more than 12,000 times.
On June 7, a few days after the bill introduction, the New Jersey Governor announced during a press briefing that his school mask mandate includes exceptions “for cases of extreme heat in outdoor settings” or for other “situations indoors or outdoors where wearing a mask would inhibit the individual’s health.” School officials are empowered to relax mask requirements in such exceptional situations, Murphy said.
Some school districts in New Jersey used this exception to make wearing masks optional regardless of the weather, according to NJ.com.
What Experts Say
Two physician-scientists at the University of California, a physician, and an epidemiologist co-authored an article published by the Washington Post, in which they recommended that “children should return to their normal lives this summer and in the upcoming school year, without masks and regardless of their vaccination status.”
“Youth masking during sports, indoors or outdoors, has also not been found to impact disease spread,” the authors wrote.
“One study found adolescent athletes who played a sport during the pandemic had less anxiety and depression than athletes who did not. The simple gesture of allowing a child to take off their mask might give them more sense of control and allow them to see that reassuring smile from a friend,” they pointed out.
A report published by Manhattan Institute’s City Journal stated that “Social distancing and masks hinder learning while harming children emotionally, socially, and physically, all for no purpose other than providing false comfort to adults who ought to know better.”
“By hiding teachers’ lips and muffling their speech, mask-wearing makes it harder for young children to develop linguistic skills and prevents children with hearing impairments from lip reading,” the report said.
The publication was also cited by Sen. Pennacchio, who pointed out that “Masks can be breeding grounds for infections from bacteria, mold, and fungi, which is why the Centers for Disease Control recommends that a cloth mask should be washed with soap and water “whenever it gets dirty or at least daily.”