Fine Print: NJ’s New Details on Reopening Schools

New guidelines on mandatory face masks, with 10 exceptions
Credit: (Patti Sapone,
File photo: June 1, 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy gives briefing on the coronavirus.

Title: “School Reopening Frequently Asked Questions”

Author: New Jersey Department of Education

When: Friday, Aug. 7, 2020

What it is: The Murphy administration on Friday released the latest guidance for the reopening of schools in the form of an FAQ (“frequently asked questions”). The guidelines include the latest rules on the mandatory use of face masks, conditions around social distancing in the classroom, and a range of other issues involved with opening schools.

What it means: To be determined. The rules are the Murphy administration’s latest updates to keep up with what is clearly a fast-changing landscape for the reopening of schools in the next month. Murphy has called for at least some in-school instruction, and last week added a rule that all students and adults wear masks.

What’s next: There has been considerable push of late for opening schools all-remotely, at least for now. School districts’ reopening plans are now under review by the state, with much more to come in the next days and weeks.

More soon: Murphy on Friday said he wouldn’t take questions on the education landscape, announcing only the FAQ. That often indicates a broader announcement to come. His next media briefing is scheduled for Monday.

Face masks first: The guidelines start with specifics around the new requirements for face masks among both students and adults, the latest of Murphy’s orders with schools. They include not just when they should be worn, but also how they are distributed (daily) and sanitized (often).

The 10 exceptions: Under Murphy’s edict, masks must be worn at all times in the building, save for 10 exceptions, as quoted from the FAQ:

  1. When doing so would inhibit the individual’s health;
  2. When a student is in extreme heat outdoors;
  3. When a student is in water;
  4. If a student’s documented medical condition, or disability as reflected in an Individualized Education Program (IEP), precludes the use of a face covering;
  5. If a student is under the age of two (2), due to the risk of suffocation;
  6. When a student is eating or drinking;
  7. If or when anyone has trouble breathing or is unconscious, is incapacitated, or is otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance (e.g., face coverings should not be worn by pre-K students during nap time);
  8. The student is engaged in high intensity aerobic or anaerobic activities;
  9. During gym and music classes when individuals are in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of 6 feet apart;
  10. When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task (for example, students operating machinery in which face coverings may get caught);

Screening and testing, including isolation: The FAQ says that schools will not be required to conduct daily screening, but it recommends continual monitoring and a host of steps when a child is found symptomatic. Among them is setting a “designated space” for designated students found to be symptomatic.

Err on the side of caution: “Anyone who is sick should stay home from school. Anyone who suspects they are ill and received a COVID-19 test should not attend or visit school while awaiting test results.”

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