In early August, Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order (EO) 251, which mandated all students, educators, staff and visitors wear a mask indoors at public, private and parochial schools. The EO, which went into effect August 9, extends from pre-school to secondary education and will remain until revoked by the governor.
Murphy has said that the mask mandate was enacted to protect students from the COVID 19 Delta variant while still allowing them to return to in-person learning. Masks are worn to shield all students from spreading respiratory droplets, but they are especially important for protecting those who are immunocompromised or unable to receive the COVID 19 vaccine.
There are, however, several exceptions to the EO for specific students and circumstances. Students with a documented medical condition or disability may be exempt from wearing a mask if it is reflected in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Educational Plan under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Additionally, Executive Order 253, which Murphy signed late August, clarified that individuals looking for a medical exemption from masking must “produce written documentation from a medical professional.” Notes from a parent or students themselves will not be accepted.
The CDC has issued guidance for medical professionals to help them assess when to grant a mask exemption. It recommended that children who are unable to remove the mask independently should be excused, but advised students with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disabilities to continue masking. The CDC also encouraged parents to work with doctors and the school to develop a plan that works for their child.
Other exemptions in EO 251 include:
- If a student’s health is in immediate danger from wearing the mask (for example, in extreme heat)
- Children under two
- If a student is engaged in an activity that would be impossible with a mask, such as eating, drinking or playing an instrument
- When a student is engaged in high intensity exercise in a well-ventilated location where maintaining six feet of distance from other individuals is possible
- When wearing a face mask makes it unsafe to execute a task
For more information or if you would like to discuss your options with an attorney, contact Sandra Lascari at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 377-6725.
Read Executive Order 251 here
Read Executive Order 253 here