In an Aug 11, 2021 “Return to School Plan Update” memo, West Milford Township Public Schools Superintendent Alex Anemone informed the school community that the State of New Jersey has ordered that facemasks will be required for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
Parents voice opposition to masks required in schools
Several parents at West Milford Board of Education meeting earlier this summer expressed their opposition to students potentially being required to wear masks in schools for the upcoming school year. Parents referred to scientific studies and medical pediatric journal articles regarding reasons facemasks could possibly be harmful for students - especially younger students; and also presented statistics on low transmission rates of the COVID-19 virus among children.
Ob Aug. 6, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state will once again be implementing an indoor mask requirement for all New Jersey K-12 Schools for the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
Rising cases cause for changes in state policy
The numbers of COVID-19 cases nationwide and statewide rose significantly through the months of June and July, and have continued the increasing trend thus far in August, according to state and national health organizations.
The recent surge in new COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the dominant and highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus has also caused an increase in the number of children affected by COVID-19.
Based upon such recent scientific data, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has since updated its mask guidance; now recommending that even vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in public in areas of the U.S. where COVID cases are surging - specifically in areas deemed “substantial” or “high” transmission areas. Every county in New Jersey has reached levels of “substantial” or “high” transmission rates according to State and CDC data reports as of Aug. 10.
Passaic County is listed as “substantial” with the number of confirmed cases reported on July as 10 to more than 62 cases and rising, as reported in the county on Aug. 10
Data suggests that most of these cases are among unvaccinated people, but some vaccinated individuals have also been infected. But, according to the CDC reports, most vaccinated individuals affected have had a lower incidence of serious complications from the virus, and fewer cases require hospitalization, or result in death.
However, the data also shows that children are now becoming a more visibly vulnerable group in the Coronavirus pandemic due to more-infectious strains of the COVID-19 virus leading to more cases overall, and because fewer numbers of children have been vaccinated.
More infectious variants of the virus spreading
Alpha and Delta are just two of four new variants of the pandemic virus that are considered to be “of concern” by the CDC. They are more contagious, cause faster infection, more-severe illness, and reduce the effectiveness of currently available treatments and vaccines.
While the CDC has stated that the Delta variant has not yet been found to cause more-severe illness in children than other strains of the virus at this time, concern is that the variants could lead to an exponential growth in outbreaks within communities - particularly those with limited vaccinations and lax masking - due to its increased rate of transmission. The Delta variant has been reported to be about 50 percent more infectious than the Alpha variant; while the Alpha variant has been recorded as being about 50 percent more infectious than the original pandemic coronavirus.
The CDC also now recommends that everyone in K-12 schools wear masks - regardless of their vaccination status.
Following “a great deal of feedback” received from stakeholders regarding the recent State and School District updates for the start of the school year, Anemone released another update on Aug. 16: “Please know your observations and opinions are appreciated and taken into consideration when we are planning for the school year. One of the more common questions involved students placed on quarantine due to a new positive COVID test or being revealed as a close contact of a COVID positive individual. Parents are understandably concerned about their children missing school for an extended period of time. In the event a student is placed on quarantine, he/she will be able to be ‘live-streamed’ into their classes at Macopin and WMHS.
“At the K-5 level, teachers will have scheduled ‘check-ins’ at different points during the day, for varying lengths of time, depending on the student’s grade. For example, a fifth grade student would be expected to be logged in for a longer period of time than a kindergarten student. These practices are consistent with how we ended the 2020-2021 school year for students on quarantine.”
Important Back-to-School dates
• The WMTPS district’s “Parent Portal” will open on Friday, Aug. 20. Parents will be able to access student schedules, view and print bus passes, etc. Visit: www.wmtps.org/for_families, click on “+”, select “Parent Portal”, then enter your login information. If you need assistance, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The next meeting of the West Milford Board of Education will be held at the Westbrook Elementary School Media Center at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 24.
• The first day of school for West Milford Students is Tuesday, Sept. 7.
• COVID-19 Daily Home Screening Checklist for Parents is available to download/print for reference on the District Website Homepage at: www.wmtps.org, scroll down to “IMPORTANT LINKS”, then select link for “COVID-19 Daily Screening Checklist” to download the file.
• The 2021 - 2022 School Year Calendar is available on the District Website Homepage
Anemone concluded his August 16th update expressing that the concerns and frustrations of the community were also shared by the School Board and District Administration.
“Lastly,” he wrote, “please understand that we understand and share your frustration that the start of school year will not be completely ‘normal’ and are hopeful that brighter days are ahead. Together, we will get through this.”