Arts Ed NJ, a statewide arts education resource, policy and advocacy organization, has suspended mitigation guidance for schools designated as “mask optional” effective March 7, according to a news release.

The announcement coincides with the just-released March Forward Spring 2022 Guidance for Arts Education, which provides the most up-to-date policy guide for administrators, K-12 arts educators, and communities to ensure that students can take part in arts education programs safely and effectively as schools return to pre-pandemic norms.

The move also comes in the wake of Gov. Phil Murphy’s Feb. 7 announcement that the universal school mask mandate for all students, educators, staff and visitors will be lifted March 7 – as well as updated masking recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest update from Arts Ed NJ includes:

  1. No mitigation requirements for mask-optional schools.
  2. For schools with a mask requirement, Arts Ed NJ reinforces the previous recommendations for indoor performing arts, including:
    • Masks made of appropriate material should be worn; however, wind players should mask their instruments while playing. This allows them to remove their face masks during performance only. Social distancing of three feet is also recommended “when feasible.”
    • In spaces with good ventilation, indoor rehearsal time should be limited to 50 minutes, followed by one air exchange before resuming. If there are spaces with higher air change rates, teachers may consider longer rehearsal times.
    • Proper hygiene ventilation strategies should be a priority at all times.
  1. There are no mitigation requirements when outdoors for any school.

While Arts Ed NJ is careful to note that its recommendations are subject to change based on the latest CDC and New Jersey Department of Health requirements, the organization believes that when these recommendations are followed, the arts classroom is as safe as any other classroom. In addition, students will benefit most if schools refrain from adding unnecessary obstacles to learning dance, music, theater, or visual art in person.

“We are excited to see our schools begin to transition back to pre-pandemic operations across all educational programs, including the visual and performing arts,” said Arts Ed NJ director Bob Morrison. “We are hopeful this new phase will bring some normalcy back for our students as they engage in these arts programs without restrictions.”

Arts Ed NJ Pushes for a Return to Norms

In its news release, Arts Ed NJ states, “Arts Ed NJ is urging policymakers to allow for a return to pre-pandemic norms for dance, music, theatre and visual arts. Studies have shown the importance of these disciplines in providing a well-rounded education. Arts education is vital because it combines intellectual challenges with social emotional learning, essential for student development. To move forward, students need to be able to interpret their world and express their emotions, something that’s more important now than ever.”

The organization continues, “But while all subject areas have suffered due to COVID over the last two years, arts education may have been hit hardest. Isolating students from their classmates and teachers negates the benefits that are unique to art education — the peer-to-peer learning that comes from shared experience; the ability of a teacher to work with students over multiple grades and to serve as role models for students; the tools for learning how subjective judgment plays a role in everyday life; a safe space to explore the gray areas that are ignored in subject areas where standardized testing thwarts creative reasoning; even the simple joy of creating something new.”

According to Morrison, “March Forward 2022 emphasizes the importance of studying dance, music, theatre and visual arts collectively and in person. Our data shows that students have missed creating together in an unobstructed way. We also believe that engaging with the community, whether by organizing field trips or bringing artists into the classroom, is both beneficial and motivating for students.”

The recommendations outlined in March Forward 2022 build upon work that began in 2020 with a task force of more than 100 of the state’s leading arts educators and stakeholders, who met regularly throughout the school year and beyond to understand the challenges for students and teachers during the COVID era.

Get more information about the March Forward Spring 2022 Guidance for Arts Education.

Get more information about arts education and social and emotional learning.