Nj School Mask Mandate Frustrations Spill Out During Hearing

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Frustrated parents on Friday called on New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to relax mandates for mask wearing in schools across the state.

The testimony came during an Assembly Republican hearing on masks in schools and featured testimony from mothers and at least one school nurse. They raised concerns that the masks take a social and psychological toll on pupils and could make it particularly hard for younger children to learn since they can't read teachers' lips and their peers' facial expressions.

The most emotional part of the hearing came when Brienne Zilinski played an audio recording of her young daughter, who had come home distraught and over not being able to understand her friends through their masks. Through crying, she also tells her mother she has migraines from wearing a mask.

Others questioned what the scientific basis for wearing masks was and others asked whether, particularly younger pupils, can correctly wear a mask all day at school.

The hearing lacked testimony from health officials and others who advise and support mask wearing at schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the “consistent and correct” use of a mask for students and staff at schools to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said he was willing to hold a hearing next week for people supportive of masks. He pointed out none of those people signed up to speak Friday.

He said he thought the people at Friday's hearing deserved to have their questions answered by the state's top health official and Murphy.

“All I'm saying to you is let them speak and let them have a response from the commissioner or the governor,” he said in a phone interview after the hearing.

The issue has emerged as political, though it's not clear it breaks down neatly on party lines.

Republicans held Friday's hearing without the attendance of the Democratic majority, and the GOP has been skeptical of some COVID-19 countermeasures — like the closure of businesses and in some cases mask wearing. But one woman said Friday she was a registered Democrat and opposed the mandate and Murphy.

And last week in Trenton as lawmakers debated a bill to end the public health emergency stemming from COVID-19, dozens of parents rallied at the statehouse, calling for officials to “unmask” children. Many also carried signs of Republican candidates who were seeking the GOP nomination for governor, which took place Tuesday.

Murphy, a Democrat, said this week that school districts can use their judgment to relax mask mandates, particularly in cases of extreme heat.

Alyana Alfaro Post, the governor's spokesperson, said in an email Friday that the mask-mandate order the governor signed aligns with CDC recommendations.

“The Order includes a number of exceptions to the indoor mask requirement, including in situations where wearing a mask would inhibit the individual child’s health,” she said.

There's been no decision yet from Murphy's administration on whether masks will be required in schools in the fall.

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