Don't get used to the idea of kids being able to go mask-less in school much longer. Gov. Phil Murphy strongly indicated that his mask mandate will be back in place when the new school year begins in the fall.

Murphy said earlier this week that his current executive order did allow for districts to suspend the mask mandate for health reasons after several districts raised concerns about students having to wear a mask in classrooms that did not have air conditioning during this week's heat wave. The heat wave is over, but a number of schools have decided to forgo the mask rules for the remainder of the school year.

On Wednesday, Murphy continued to defer to individual districts.

"We are saying if there is a particular health reason, and extreme heat is one of them, they have the right to make that decision locally," he said.

However, he also warned this leeway would not extend into the fall: "But what we are not saying is you can take your mask off forever and always."

Murphy has repeatedly said he expects students and staff will be required to mask up in schools when the new year begins in September, largely because there is no vaccine available for kids under the age of 12.

The mask mandate has been one of the most polarizing issues surrounding the reopening of schools and the resumption of in-person learning. Parents have descended on local school board meetings by the thousands and rallied outside school buildings to demand kids be able to unmask.

The loophole in the mask mandate was quickly used by a number of districts to forgo masking for the few weeks of school left this year. In the Manalapan-Englishtown district, the superintendent refused to take that approach. After angry parents packed the school board meeting, members voted to suspend the super, and his replacement lifted the mask mandate.

Murphy is aware of how divisive the mask issue has become and pleaded for everyone to keep calm.

"Lets not get political about this," Murphy said. "That's the last thing we need right now. Lets leave the politics out of it."

Murphy has left open the possibility of lifting the mask mandate in the fall but was not optimistic that would be the case.

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