Board of education discusses mask mandate, school reopening

Shamong residents voice opposition to executive order

The Shamong Township Board of Education met on Aug. 17 at Indian Mills Middle School in front of a packed gymnasium of eager parents who wanted to discuss back-to-school requirements.

To board members’ surprise, attendance for the meeting was more than it had been in recent years, according to Superintendent Christine Vespe. Attendees  were supplied with an updated timeline of events that included measures to ensure health and safety during COVID .

Vespe said she and board members understand the community’s concerns about   masks in school.

“The Shamong Township Board of Education hears you,” she noted. “We understand families who want mask wearing to be a choice. We understand those who want their children to wear a mask.

“The board of education and superintendent have been advocating for masks to be optional since June 4,” Vespe added.

According to the timeline presented at the meeting, the board has sent multiple requests to Gov. Phil Murphy for masks in class and inside school facilities to be optional. Despite their requests, Murphy signed an executive order on Aug. 6 mandating masks indoors for all students, staff, educators and visitors.

During the public session parents and guardians at the board meeting expressed different opinions on the mask issue, among them that masks be optional. Resident Mary Brooks questioned the board on plans for the new school year.

“Masks aside, and whether they should be optional … What will the school year look like for our kids?” Brooks asked. “Is it going to be normal?”

Vespe responded that the district is doing everything in its power to make the upcoming school year as normal as possible. She also explained how the schools will handle a quarantine situation if a student tests positive for COVID, with or without a mask, and added that quarantined students will have a virtual learning option.

“If a child is quarantined because of exposure or if they become ill,” she said, “we can have them remote in and get remote lessons. So we are going to work on that so we can provide that for them.”

As fall reopening approaches, the board will communicate with parents about  what the school day will look like, as well as other issues.

The Shamong board of education meeting in the gymnasium of the Indian Mills Middle School, where the new plans, including the new mask mandate for the school year were discussed.

The next board of education meeting will occur in person on Monday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Indiana Mills Middle School. For more information, visit https://www.im.k12.nj.us/page/board-of-education