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Are schools open? What are the safety requirements?

Last Updated: 01/12/2022

2021-2022 SCHOOL YEAR

All public school districts in New Jersey are expected to provide full-time, in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. Parents or guardians are not able to opt children out of in-person instruction as allowed for the 2020-2021 school year.

All students, educators, staff, and visitors are required to wear face masks inside of school buildings, regardless of vaccination status, for the start of the 2021-2022 academic year.

As of October 18th, 2021, all workers in preschool through Grade 12 schools are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or be subject to COVID-19 testing at minimum one to two times per week.

Indoor Mask Requirement

Masks must be worn indoors by staff, students, and visitors in all situations except as described in EO 251. This includes physical education classes, prior to boarding the school bus, while on the bus and until students are completely off the bus.

Exceptions to the mask requirement remain unchanged from the 2020-2021 school year, and include:

  • When doing so would inhibit the individual's health, such as when the individual is exposed to extreme heat indoors;
  • When the individual has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance;
  • When a student's documented medical condition or disability, as reflected in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Educational Plan precludes use of a face covering;
  • When the individual is under two (2) years of age;
  • When an individual is engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating and drinking or playing an instrument that would be obstructed by the face covering;
  • When the individual is engaged in high-intensity physical activity

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.

Individuals seeking a medical exemption from mask wearing will be required to produce written documentation from a medical professional. Self-attestations and parental attestations are not sufficient.

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 5-17 years and completed the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Age 18 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 under 18 years old who are not fully vaccinated
  • Individuals 18+ 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.

The CDC recommends that travel be delayed until individuals are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated individuals who do travel should get tested 1-3 days before their trip and 3-5 days after travel. Even if they test negative, the CDC recommends unvaccinated individuals stay home and self-quarantine for 5 days after domestic or international travel, and for 10 days if they are unable to test. 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

The Department of Education, in partnership with the Department of Health, has produced a health and safety guidance document detailing recommendations designed to provide a healthy and safe environment for students and staff during the 2021-2022 school year.

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.

For full details on these recommendations, refer to the NJ's Department of Education and the Department of Health's health and safety guidance for the 2021-2022 school year.

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

Vaccination

As of October 18th, 2021, all part-time and full-time individuals, employed by all public, private, and parochial preschool programs and elementary and secondary schools, including charter and renaissance schools are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or be subject to COVID-19 testing at minimum one to two times per week.

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

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: NJ Department of Education: The Road Forward; Executive Order 251; Executive Order No. 253