Bernards High School removes mask mandate

Mei Salemi, Staff Writer

On Monday, March 7, 2022, Bernards High School gave students and staff members the option to not wear a mask in school. After lengthy discussions and consideration, the high school decided to follow this course of action per recommendations from the New Jersey Department of Health. The New Jersey Department of Health announced in their latest updates that “as of March 7, 2022, the state mandate requiring in school universal masking will expire, and individual school districts and school boards will be able to make the determination as to whether universal masking is appropriate for their schools.” 

Due to the independence in making the decision, the school administration had keyed in on several local factors to consider, such as Bernards’ students well-being, support of the unmasking, safety, and health concerns, covid rates and statistics, as well as the intended direction in handling guidelines. Other factors that the Department of Health describes is “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.” 

The lifting of the mask mandates will affect not only the students and pandemic recovery, but future decisions, as well. 

Principal Dr. Neigel says that Bernards cannot pick and choose, as “[We] either want to be careful and mitigate the spread or we go the other route and we don’t see the severity of Omicron and the vaccination rate is high. The middle is where it gets tricky.” Therefore, the optional mask policy establishes a precedent as to how the school will handle future covid matters and enforcements. Hence, there will not be any other changes to seating arrangements during lunch or otherwise at this time. However, according to Dr. Neigel, “[we] will see how this first step goes and revisit other restrictions moving forward.” 

 Reinforcing this potential change in mask optional policy, the Department of Health has stated that “circumstances in New Jersey have improved to the point where relaxation of universal masking rules in K-12 schools can generally occur. School administrators should be prepared for the emergence of new variants or substantial waning immunity that could once again lead to greater morbidity, mortality, and disruption, and require returning to additional mitigation measures,” warns the Department of Health. Dr. Neigel addresses this in his classroom announcement, writing that As per Dr. Dempsey’s letter, “Students and staff members who choose not to wear a mask should still bring one to school with them every day, just in case of an unanticipated emergency need.”

Due to varying opinions on these masks, some potential conflicts have been confronted. In the same announcement on google classroom on Friday, March 3, 2022, Dr. Neigel posted
a few reminders: “We want all students to feel safe and welcome in the classroom.  Please be mindful and respectful that students may make different decisions from yours, and that’s okay.  Everyone is making choices based on their experiences so that they can feel comfortable and supported in the classroom, on the bus, and in public. Mocking or disrespect of other students for their choices on whether to wear a mask will not be tolerated and will be addressed accordingly.”