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Are schools open? What are the safety requirements?

Last Updated: 03/07/2022

As of August 15th, 2022, the State is no longer requiring that unvaccinated workers in school districts and child care settings undergo routine COVID-19 testing requirements.

2021-2022 SCHOOL YEAR

All public school districts in New Jersey were expected to provide full-time, in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year.

Masks

On March 7th, 2022, the indoor mask mandate for schools was lifted. Individual school districts and school boards are able to make the determination as to whether universal masking is appropriate for their schools. In making this decision, consultation with the LHD and school district medical personnel is recommended.

Many factors may go into this decision, including, but not limited to schools' ability to maintain physical distancing, ability to regularly screen students (including screening testing), vaccination rates of students and staff, ability to perform effective contact tracing of cases, ability to ensure appropriate exclusion of students and staff with COVID-19 or who have been exposed, and ability to maintain adequate ventilation.

For schools that choose not to institute a universal masking policy, NJDOH recommends that schools should require mask wearing in the following circumstances:

  • During periods of elevated community transmission – when COVID-19 Activity Level Index (CALI) is elevated.
  • During an active outbreak – during an outbreak or a general increase in cases, schools should consult with their LHD as to whether short-term universal masking or masking in affected classrooms should be required to control the outbreak/increase in cases.
  • After returning from isolation or quarantine – students and staff who return to school during days 6-10 of isolation or quarantine should be required to mask. See exclusion and quarantine guidance below.
  • When illness occurs in school – students or staff who become ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 while in school should wear a mask until they leave the premises.
  • During Test to Stay - students participating in Test to Stay should be required to mask.

In general, students and staff do not need to wear masks outdoors, including during outdoor physical education classes or school sports except during days 6-10 after completing a 5-day isolation or quarantine. Schools may encourage the use of masks during outdoor activities that involve sustained close contact with other individuals or during periods of high community transmission.

Staying Home and Exclusion Policies

Students and staff should stay home when sick, if they test positive for COVID-19, or if they had close contact with a person with COVID-19 and meet the criteria for quarantine. Parents and caregivers should monitor their children for signs of illness.

Regardless of vaccination status, individuals who test positive or have COVID19 symptoms who have not been tested and do not have an alternative diagnosis from their healthcare provider should:

  • Stay home for at least 5 full days after the onset of symptoms or if asymptomatic after the positive test
  • If they have no symptoms or symptoms are resolving after 5 days, they can leave their home, but for an additional 5 days, should wear a mask around others (indoors and outdoors).
  • For these additional 5 days, schools should have a plan to ensure adequate distance during those activities (i.e., eating) when mask wearing is not possible. Time without a mask being worn should be kept to the minimum possible.
  • On days 6-10, limit participation in extracurricular activities to only those activities where masks can be worn consistently and correctly.

Exposed close contacts who have no symptoms in the following groups do NOT need to quarantine or be excluded from school:

  • Age 5-11 years and completed the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Age 12 or older and have received all recommended vaccine doses, including boosters and additional primary shots for some immunocompromised people.
  • Had confirmed COVID-19 within the last 90 days (tested positive using a viral test).

Everyone should:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days from the date of their last close contact with someone with COVID-19
  • Monitor for symptoms, and get tested at least 5 days after having close contact with someone with COVID-19 unless they have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days
  • On days 6-10, limit participation in extracurricular activities to only those activities where masks can be worn consistently and correctly.

Exposed close contacts who have no symptoms in the following groups should be excluded from school:

  • Individuals who are not fully vaccinated
  • Individuals 12+ who completed the primary series of a recommended COVID-19 vaccine, but have not received a recommended booster shot when eligible.

For more details, refer to NJ DOH's Health Recommendations for K-12 schools.

Note: Schools may choose to implement a Test To Stay (TTS) program, which allows asymptomatic, unvaccinated students who were exposed to COVID-19 in school settings to stay in their classes. Students participating in TTS are required to comply with enhanced masking and testing recommendations and should quarantine when not in school. If schools are considering implementing TTS, they should also have robust contact tracing in place and access to testing resources among other layered prevention strategies. The TTS option does not apply to exposures that occur outside of school and in the community. For more information, refer to NJ DOH's Guidance for Test To Stay in K-12 schools.

Travel

While there is no statewide travel advisory in place at this time, schools and school districts, in consultation with local health departments, are encouraged to have a policy for excluding unvaccinated students and staff that travel that is consistent with CDC COVID-19 travel recommendations.

For those traveling to or from New Jersey, domestic travel is considered to be any travel lasting 24 hours or longer to any U.S. states or territories other than Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware.

Schools and school districts are strongly encouraged to provide virtual or remote instruction to students who are excluded from school due to COVID-19 exclusion policies.

Additional Public Health Guidance for In-Person Learning

These strategies are recommendations, not mandatory standards. The absence of one or more of these strategies should not prevent school facilities from opening for full-day, in-person operation.

Where possible, the Department's recommendations should be used to develop a layered approach to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and schools should implement as many layers as feasible.

The strategies and procedures include, but are not limited to:

Vaccination

Schools and school districts should actively promote vaccination for all eligible students and staff.

As of August 15th, 2022, the State is no longer requiring that unvaccinated workers in school districts and child care settings undergo routine COVID-19 testing requirements.

Testing

Developing and implementing a screening testing strategy is particularly important during periods of high community transmission when physical space limitations prevent the implementation of maximal social distancing practices. Testing strategies in K-12 schools should be developed in consultation with local health departments.

The Department of Health has dedicated $267 million to provide COVID-19 screening testing support to public and nonpublic K12 schools. Through this program schools will receive support to provide free on-site screening testing in schools to students and staff at no cost to the district. Districts are encouraged to work with local health departments to develop a testing strategy and consider participating in this program.

More information is available here: K12_school_testing_packet.pdf (nj.gov)

Social Distancing and Cohorting

Schools should establish policies to promote physical distance and small group cohorting. Schools should implement physical distancing recommendations to the maximum degree that allows them to offer full in-person learning. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet in the classroom, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies (i.e., indoor masking, screening testing, cohorting, etc.).

Response to Symptomatic Students and Staff

Schools should ensure that procedures are in place to identify and respond to a student or staff member who becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms.

Sources: Executive Order 251; Executive Order No. 253