As guidance from public health authorities continues to be refined about the return to in-person learning during COVID-19, the Diocese’s Department of Catholic Schools has issued an updated and detailed list of requirements for diocesan and parish Catholic schools in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

The requirement document was sent to principals Aug. 21 and is to be included by the schools in the re-entry plans that they are sharing with their parent communities.

The requirements cover key subjects such as the wearing of masks by students, faculty and visitors; screening processes for fever or other symptoms of students and faculty; adherence to any updates from the New Jersey Department of Health and other agencies based on risks for each community and region, and contingency plans in the event of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis in the school.

According to the document, face masks will be required for all students and faculty, unless the individual meets specific exceptions. While clear masks are acceptable, face shields do not replace masks as an option – though they may be worn in addition to a face mask. (This reflects the updated Centers for Disease Control guidelines about cloth face coverings being more effective against the spread of the coronavirus.) Periodic breaks when masks may be removed are allowed if social distancing is maintained.

Temperature and symptom checks will be instrumental as part of the screening process for anyone entering school buildings, preferably taken at home by a parent prior to leaving for school each day and then submitted via online/phone app, and alternatively by a school nurse prior to admission.

Each school will implement specific protocol, such as social distancing, based on its individual campus and classrooms. Some schools have more space than others, allowing for greater numbers of students per classroom. As reported in their official plans, many schools will make use of outdoor space, including the use of tents, as weather and seasons permit.

The New Jersey Department of Health has established a risk matrix by region for New Jersey, with Burlington County in the southwest region, Mercer in the central west region, and Monmouth and Ocean in the central east region. If positive case numbers increase above a particular threshold, the region will be color coded – green for low risk, yellow for moderate risk, orange for high risk and red for very high risk.

Regardless of the risk levels, all diocesan schools will adhere to the directive to require students and staff to stay home when sick or if they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days. Parents, guardians, students and staff must notify school administrators of illness.

Daily cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces in the school must be done, and adequate hand hygiene supplies must be readily available. Additionally, the use of partitions or physical barriers, as well as keeping students in defined cohorts, are included in diocesan guidelines.

If a confirmed COVID-19 case is detected in the school population, the diocesan plan offers safety guidelines for how to quarantine individuals and anyone to whom they may have been exposed, and the potential need for closing the school to curtail community spread.

For example, two or more cases within the same student cohort would not be cause for a school closure – the exposed individuals would instead be quarantined for 14 days.

If, however, the cause is traced to a school activity, or a significant community outbreak occurs, the local health department would make recommendations about the school closing for two weeks or longer, depending on the risk status of the region.

It is noted by the Diocese that the requirements are established in adherence to the New Jersey Governor’s Executive Order 175 and are subject to change based on updates from the New Jersey Department of Health and the New Jersey Department of Education.

To read the full requirements document, click here. For a recap of the Diocese’s planning process and other criteria for school plans, click here.