The Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District Board of Education made the decision during a Tuesday night meeting, after Dr. John Marciante said he would continue to abide by Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order that allows for mask removal only in extreme heat.
But it was the meeting that was heated, with parents demanding the district adopt a mask optional policy.
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A survey showed the majority of parents wanted it, but the state mandate still required masks inside school.
"I am not going to make this decision because it's against the mandate," Marciante said. "It's against the CDC."
Marciante, who is retiring at the end of the academic year after 14 years in the role, indicated that he would continue to follow state guidance. But many parents believe it should be their choice.
"Everyone should have the same choice," a parent, Joe, said. "If you want to send your kid to school with a mask, by all means do it. Two masks, whatever you want. If I don't want to send my kid, I shouldn't have to."
Marciante said the meeting got too rough.
"I have never seen a crowd so angry," he said. "Parents demanding that she's going to send her child to school the next day without a mask. What am I going to do? I didn't have an answer, so the question repeated and got louder. And next to her was her 4-year-old daughter, who then got into the fetal position and was crying, and the mother kept asking."
So his solution was to authorize the board to put him on leave.
"And I convinced the board to do it based on the fact that I said, 'You're going to have your entire administration, principals and teachers, dealing with children coming in,'" he said. "And it's almost like children are like the pawns in this."
And so Wednesday was the first day where masks were optional, and some kids seemed to be happy about it.
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"I didn't like them, I couldn't breathe," 7-year-old Valentia said. "I wanted to see (my friends') faces."
Masks are optional for staff members with proof of vaccination, and unvaccinated staff members are still be required to wear masks inside school buildings.
The new policy and the superintendent's leave are in place through June 22, the final day of the school year.
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