Wall schools announce changes to mask policy

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Wall Township Board of Education FILE PHOTO

WALL TOWNSHIP — The Wall Township Public School District has updated its restrictions on mask wearing in school buildings in response to Gov. Phil Murphy’s comments on mask use during excessive heat.

Effectively immediately, students no longer have to wear masks when they are outdoors or on buses.

Also, students will be required to wear masks in classrooms with functioning air conditioning. Students will not be required to wear masks in classrooms without adequate air conditioning and ventilation.

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The changes were announced in a letter to the school community from school superintendent Tracy Handerhan following a malfunctioned air-conditioning system at Central Elementary School that forced students in second-floor classrooms to stay home for virtual instruction on Monday, when temperatures reached over 90 degrees.

Board of Education president Ralph Addonizio told The Coast Star that the issue was fixed by a contractor by Monday morning and students from those classrooms returned to school on Tuesday.

“There were problems with some of the controls and the valves … and they were able to fix it and get it up and running. There’s still a couple more items they need to tweak or change out but it is working,” he said.

On Monday, June 7, Gov. Murphy tweeted “School officials are empowered to relax masking among students and staff in their buildings given extreme weather conditions,” which Mr. Addonizio said was confusing because it appeared to undermine the governor’s own executive orders.

“The biggest problem is the conflicting messages from Governor Murphy. His tweet that he sent out contradicted his own executive order and really didn’t give any indication of the parameters as far temperature, humidity or anything like that and it left schools in a real bind,” Mr. Addonizio said.  “So now we’re in a situation where it looks like every different school district’s attorney is interpreting it differently.”

The governor’s tweet about wearing masks during extreme heat comes one week after Mr. Addonizio and the Wall Board of Education penned a letter to the governor, pleading with him to end the in-school mask mandate by the fall. 

Parents in Wall have been regularly attending board of education meetings over the past few months, demanding the board end its mask rules, to which the board responded that it cannot because it is beholden to the governor’s rules.

“So many people in the district are on the same page as the public, and it’s frustrating because as elected officials we take up an oath to uphold the constitution and follow the rules of the state,” Mr. Addonizio said.

“Everyday we hope the governor puts out more guidance and just makes it clear for districts.”

“It’s not something we take lightly and dismiss,” he continued. “We just want to make sure we don’t put the school district in jeopardy of anything [ramifications from state] and we’re following the law. If there’s a way we can lift the masks we’re certainly going to do it. We just have to make sure that we do it legally and we don’t do something that negatively affects the district and taxpayers of Wall Township.

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