Mask Mandate Remains in South Orange-Maplewood Schools; District to Reassess After Spring Break

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February 22, 2022

Good Afternoon SOMSD Community,

On February 7, Governor Phil Murphy announced that the school mask mandate will no longer be in effect statewide as of March 7.   In that same announcement, the governor also noted that local school districts can make determinations as to whether they should continue with mask mandates.

The good news is that Essex County is currently at a moderate CALI (COVID Activity Level Index) score and there has been a dramatic decline in COVID-19 transmission in New Jersey and in our local community. In addition, we are proud of the vaccination rates in our school community.  There is a high vaccination rate among our teachers and staff population  (over 90%+) as well as our student population overall (ages 5 – 11, over 75%+ have received their 1st shots; ages 12 – 18,  90%+).

However, even in light of the trend we are seeing, in discussion with our local health departments and school nurses, our District is making the very thoughtful decision to continue with our ‘indoor school mask’ mandate.  One of the key factors in our determination is that we are still awaiting guidance from state health and education officials concerning how to prevent disease transmission and implement contact tracing and quarantining if the indoor mask mandate is lifted.

We understand that this may be disappointing to some, however, we are instead choosing to implement a cautious roll-back of our masking mandate as well as some mitigation strategies. Below is a phased timeline of mitigation roll-backs:

Phase 1:  Mon., February 28, 2022 · Outdoor masking will now be ‘mask optional’ this includes: pick-up and drop-off,  recess and outdoor PE.  Understanding that there are some members of the SOMSD community, including staff who may prefer to keep their masks and/or parents/guardians who would prefer to have their children keep their masks on due to their specific needs and concerns, we are making masks optional for outdoors only.
Phase 2:  Mon., March 7, 2022 · Classroom plexi-glass barriers at student desks will be removed.  Barriers in cafeterias will remain in place.
Spring Break:  April 11 – 15, 2022 · School Spring Break.  Post spring-break the District will reassess the situation taking into account all factors (i.e. transmission rates, CDC and NJDOH guidelines) and will provide updates accordingly.


We believe instituting an ‘indoor mask option’ for our District at this time without ensuring a comprehensive process for monitoring how this decision may impact the larger community is premature and irresponsible. We understand some families may not agree with the District’s decision; however, we have done all we can to apply a thoughtful lens that reflects our District/community context, this includes staffing, nurses, class sizes, CALI status, etc.  Our response is measured and considerate of all these factors and we ask for the community’s patience and understanding as we slowly roll-out, assess and monitor how each phase affects the COVID infection rates in both our schools and the community-at-large.  We will only move to an “mask optional” phase if and when we feel there will be a safe learning environment for our staff and students.

It remains possible that the District may need to reinstate a mandatory outdoor mask policy, if the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in our schools, locally or in area hospitals increase, or if outbreaks occur in our education community.  We will share another community update prior to spring break.  Be safe and well.

South Orange & Maplewood School District



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