New Jersey superintendent placed on leave for refusing to make masks optional for students

A New Jersey superintendent requested to be placed on administrative leave after he refused to waive Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) statewide school mask requirement.

Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District Superintendent John Marciante, who is set to retire this month after 14 years, went on leave effective immediately after disagreeing with parents during a Tuesday night school board meeting.

Assistant superintendent Nicole Santora wrote in an announcement that Marciante said he would follow Murphy’s executive order allowing students to remove their masks only in cases of “extreme heat.”

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However, a majority of parents said in a survey that they supported waiving the requirement entirely, according to local outlet NJ Advance Media.

Several of them spoke at the meeting in an effort to make masks optional.

“Upon Dr. Marciante's recommendation, in an effort to give the community what the majority had voted for on the survey, the Board of Education placed Dr. Marciante on administrative leave effective immediately,” through June 22, Santora wrote in a statement.

The board then passed a motion revising the district mask policy to make face coverings optional for all students at the discretion of their parents.

Masks are optional for staff members with proof of vaccination, and employees who have not yet received their inoculations will be required to wear masks inside school buildings, Santora said.

Murphy announced the heat exemption on Monday after a heat wave spiked temperatures in parts of the state above 90 degrees.

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“As a reminder to all schools officials, our current masking requirements do include exceptions for cases of extreme heat in outdoor settings and for situations indoors or outdoors where wearing a mask would inhibit the individual’s health," the governor said during a briefing. "School officials are empowered to relax masking among students and staff in their buildings, given extreme weather conditions, and we hope they will make the right calls for their educational communities."

Districts without air conditioning in some or all classrooms were forced to dismiss early this week. 

In the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District, only three of the eight buildings where students attend classes are fully air conditioned.

Marciante told the outlet last week that voters have rejected plans twice, most recently in 2018, to expand the district’s air conditioning.

“We deal with what we have to deal with,” Marciante said.

Late last month, Murphy lifted the state’s requirement on indoor mask wearing and social distancing in most places. However, face coverings are still required on public transportation and in health care facilities, correctional facilities and homeless shelters.

Businesses can decide on their own if they will continue to require face masks for employees and customers, Murphy said.