Near the end of 2020, we saw a growing number of school districts going to a platform of all-remote learning. With the arrival of 2021, many districts are making plans to return students back to classrooms in some capacity. Should children be required to be tested for COVID-19 prior to returning to school buildings? New Jersey's largest teachers' union says yes.

State education officials have left that decision up to individual districts. The president of the Newark Teachers Union tells NJ.com they are urging local school officials and the state Department of Education to "mandate student testing." President John Abeigon says the presumption should be that a good number of kids were traveling or attending large gatherings over the holidays, and therefore should be tested. Newark is scheduled to begin some classroom learning later this month.

Some districts have urged parents to get their kids tested and have partnered with local health offices and private labs to provide testing. However, no public district has made student testing mandatory. Some private and prep schools do mandate testing for both students and staff. Neither individual districts, nor the state of New Jersey may have the authority to mandate testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clearly states on their website: "It is unethical and illegal to test someone who does not want to be tested."

So far, state education officials have not commented about mandatory testing. It will be interesting to see how they will respond, given the even trickier issue of mandatory vaccinations. The Newark Teachers Union supports mandatory vaccinations for students.

State Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, has already gone on record saying he supports adding a COVID-19 vaccine to the list of mandatory vaccinations required to attend public schools. However, that debate is still a ways off. No COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in children. Current vaccines are also under an emergency authorizations. Months, if not years, of data still needs to be compiled before the FDA gives permanent sign-off on a COVID vaccine. Only then could the vaccine be made mandatory.

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