Gov. Phil Murphy’s expected announcement that he will require students and teachers in New Jersey schools to wear masks when they return next month is getting some pushback from his Republican opponent, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli.
“Bottom line, whether a child wears a mask should be decided by parents, not government,” said Ciattarelli. “If someone wants to have their child wear a mask, they should feel free to do so, but it’s not something that should be forced on children, nor should their learning be inhibited in any way.”
Ciattarelli’s statement sets the stage for a contrast between the two gubernatorial candidates on a potentially hotbed issue and sets up a public debate over the prospects of a second lock down in the fall.
“Let me be clear, I oppose Governor Murphy’s mask mandate for students,” stated Ciattarelli. “The science is clear: nearly all children who contract COVID-19 are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic and wearing masks for children is terrible for their social and emotional development.”
The Republican candidate wants Murphy’s announcement to be viewed as taking decisions away from parents.
“Governor Phil Murphy has done it again,” Ciattarelli said in a statement on Friday. “His decision to require masks for K-12 students is a bewildering reversal of his position of just a few weeks ago.”
The new directive, which Murphy will announce in East Brunswick today, comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that K-12 students in schools, largely because children under the age of 12 are ineligible to be vaccinated. It follows a recent spike in Covid cases and despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S.
“This feels like the first step towards another Murphy lockdown, which is something our children, businesses, and taxpayers cannot afford or are willing to accept,” Ciattarelli said.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick complained that the legislature wasn’t involved in the school mask decision.
“Decisions related to Covid policy continue to be made without any legislative hearings. Masks in schools and vaccine mandates without any opportunity to hear from medical experts or the public, Bramnick said. “We have held many hearings on less serious subjects. Democracy requires transparency.”
Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville) opposes the mask mandates.
“What I am hearing is that mandating masks makes things more difficult for everyone,” Bergen said. “The governor’s new mandate and the CDC recommendations are looking at the issue from only one angle. They are not considering the damage to our kid’s emotional wellbeing.”
A spokesman for the New Jersey Democratic State Committee accused Ciattarelli of siding with anti-vaccine extremists.
“Of course Jack Ciattarelli is against masks in schools — he’s also against vaccines in schools, and seemingly against the state taking any measure whatsoever to keep children safe in the face of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases driven primarily by the very same anti-vaccine, anti-science movement that he so desperately wants support from,” said Phil Swibinski. “If Assemblyman Ciattarelli wants to emulate anti-science Republicans like Ron DeSantis he’s welcome to do so, but New Jerseyans will stick with a Governor like Phil Murphy who will make the hard choices to keep us safe.”