The South Orange-Maplewood School District is asking parents to respond to a survey about indoor masking, while announcing the imminent removal of plastic barriers and partitions in district schools.
“After recent discussions with our Departments of Health and the District’s Health and Wellness Subcommittee, we can share that on Monday, March 7 our plan to remove barriers in classrooms will move forward, in addition we will also be removing table top barriers from our cafeterias (on Monday, February 28 outdoor masking became optional),” read a notification from the district on March 4 announcing the survey. “We have also been discussing the important decision of indoor masking, as well as the latest data and information that is available to us.”
Previously the district announced that indoor masking would continue through the April break at which time the district would reassess. In February, a parent group petitioned the district to end the indoor mask mandate sooner, as well as remove barriers. Those parents flooded the Board of Education’s public comment sessions with appeals on Feb. 24.
Parents who wish to take the survey need to act fast: The district announced that it expects to “share the outcomes of our survey and next steps at the latest, during the week of March 7.” Families can click on https://bit.ly/3CeZ4zA through March 8 to respond to the survey.
See the full March 4 communication from the district here:
March 4, 2022
Dear South Orange & Maplewood School District Parents/Guardians:
Click the link to take SOMSD’s Parent/Guardian “Indoor Mask Option” Survey: bit.ly/3CeZ4zA
The South Orange & Maplewood School District is dedicated to protecting the health and welfare of our students, staff, and families. Since our last follow-up to the District community regarding the Governor’s recent announcement lifting the statewide school mask mandate, the CDC and NJDOH have provided additional guidelines regarding both this important topic as well as mitigation strategies in general for schools (particularly indoor).
To date, we have received new data regarding vaccination rates for our student population. Currently, the 5 – 11 aged-population is over 70% fully-vaccinated and our 12 -17 and 18 and over population is over 94% and 95% fully-vaccinated respectively (fully- vaccinated means an individual has received both doses of the COVID vaccines). Please know that while our student and staff COVID infections have significantly decreased, we are still being impacted by cases (multiple cases this and last week and a recent outbreak at one of our elementary schools). For your protection and safety, we continue to strongly recommend getting vaccinated at this time.
After recent discussions with our Departments of Health and the District’s Health and Wellness Subcommittee, we can share that on Monday, March 7 our plan to remove barriers in classrooms will move forward, in addition we will also be removing table top barriers from our cafeterias (on Monday, February 28 outdoor masking became optional). We have also been discussing the important decision of indoor masking, as well as the latest data and information that is available to us.
Why it Matters – Mask Optional Survey:
As we review the new guidelines, we believe it is important to add the voice of our community to this important discussion; as such, we are seeking input from You, our parent/guardian community.
With Omicron infection numbers thankfully falling as quickly as they rose, and with changing health guidelines from the CDC and NJDOH, as well as the low CALI status for Essex County and SOMA, the current discussions with our public health experts center on the topic of relaxing COVID mitigation strategies.
- We have of course heard from parents passionately advocating on both sides of this discussion, those urging SOMSD to make masks optional…while others reached out to us expressing sincere concerns about what this could mean for vulnerable members of our schools and their families.
- We also fully recognize that apart from our parent community, this decision also affects our staff and our students so we are sending a separate survey to hear those voices as well.
- Please know that while we value the responses to this survey, it is not an ‘election’ where the most votes determine the final plans…but it serves as a helpful data point for consideration as we continue this work.
What a potential shift to “mask optional” will mean:
One of the mitigating strategies to be discontinued if/when we make a decision to move to a “mask optional” environment is contact tracing by school nurses and administrators. Operationally and logistically, this NJDOH recommendation is no longer sustainable. This means:
- Families and school communities would only receive a general notice if a laboratory confirmed Covid-positive case is reported within their school community; and schools will no longer direct quarantining of unvaccinated close contacts;
- Schools will no longer recommend quarantine after travel for unvaccinated individuals;
- We will continue the practice of isolating COVID positive individuals and those with COVID-compatible symptoms waiting for a test result; and
- The school nurses and local health departments will still be monitoring and investigating cases and the DOH will notify the school district if there is an outbreak.
While we understand that creating a 100% ‘COVID proof’ environment is not possible, we fully support our Departments of Health in their public health messages of disease prevention and continued reminders for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated (and boosted) to protect themselves and everyone in our community. We expect to share the outcomes of our survey and next steps at the latest, during the week of March 7.
Click the link – https://bit.ly/3CeZ4zA – to take our survey about mask protocols now through March 8. As always, we thank you for your input, time and attention.
South Orange & Maplewood School District