Cranford BOE Stops Mid-Meeting Due to Mask Order Defiance

By L.K. MATA CUEVAS
For The Westfield Leader

CRANFORD — A regular monthly meeting of the Cranford Board of Education came to a screeching halt on Monday after one of the attendees refused to follow the Governor’s executive-order mask mandate.

The assembly was expected to discuss topics pertinent to Cranford’s school system, such as the three-year English-language learner program plan for the 2021-2024 period. Within minutes, however, it all changed to a “wear or not-to-wear-a-mask” conflict.

The meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and the roll calling of its members. Then, after welcoming all members of their in-person and online audiences, a few members presented their updates and thanks for supporting the board of education.

Approximately 10 minutes later, Legal Counsel Jennifer A. Osborne intervened to remind everyone about the mask mandate and the executive order that supports it.

“We are currently still under an executive order, which requires us to wear masks in all school buildings,” said Ms. Osborne. “So, if there is anyone in the audience that is not wearing a mask, we invite you to take a disposable one.”

Ms. Osborne referred to Executive Order 281, which reinstates Order 251, signed by Governor Phil Murphy last August. The order mandates “masking in the indoor premises of all public, private, and parochial preschool, elementary, and secondary school buildings.”

Gwyneth Murray-Nolan, a Cranford resident, attorney and the person to whom the board counsel referred, rejected the offer of a mask twice.

Based on the medical conditions of her son and herself, Ms. Murray-Nolan explained to The Westfield Leader that she has been fighting mask and vaccine mandates in the State of New Jersey and across the country for the last year.

“I’m the lead plaintiff in one of the suits that’s been filed against the State of New Jersey and Phil Murphy, against masking kids in the school,” said Ms. Murray-Nolan. “My son is 8, and he’s autistic. Because of his autism, he needs to see faces. Last year, he thought his teacher disliked him because he couldn’t see her face.”

The same order carries a few limited exceptions, which precludes the use of face covering, when a student or another individual in the school building has a documented medical condition or disability. However, Ms. Murray-Nolan expressed her discomfort over exposing her medical records to the board of education.

“They want you to send your private medical records to a board of education doctor that’s not even specialized in what my issues are,” Ms. Murray-Nolan said.

After acknowledging that the police force could be used to remove the non-masked from the building, a motion to suspend the meeting was made by board member William B. Hulse.

The motion was seconded, and several members left their seats.

A few minutes later, visibly tense, the board members returned to the room. Ms. Osborne, who offered “no comments” about the situation, asked for a motion to resume the meeting, just for Mr. Hulse to ask for another one to cancel it.

It was heard at once, the audience’s collective disappointment.

Non-masked Ms. Murray-Nolan, who was in the front row of the right side of the room, did not hold back as everyone walked outside.

“These people work for us,” she said about the board. “You are a disgrace.”

A statement from the Cranford Board of Education was posted on its Facebook page, a day after:

“Unfortunately, the Cranford Board of Education had to abruptly end the January 24, 2022 meeting just a few minutes into the session after a member of the public refused to wear a mask in accordance with executive order 281, which reinstates executive orders 251 and 253. The Board is compelled to follow all laws, including executive orders. The Board is fully aware that not all individuals agree with this executive order and/or may qualify for a medical exception. For these reasons, the Board provides an opportunity to take part in Board meetings both in-person and virtually… Rather than contacting the police, the Board chose to end the meeting so it could be in compliance with the executive order. It is extremely unfortunate that this occurred as the district had official business that needed to be acted upon for the good of the school community which also impacts the community at large. Moreover, the cessation of the meeting robbed residents of the opportunity to take part in the public proceedings and have their voices heard. Moving forward, we expect that all attendees will be respectful and compliant, allowing official business to take place and affording fellow residents the opportunity for their voices to be heard.”

There has not been any announcement about rescheduling the meeting. The next board of education meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 14, at 7:30 p.m., at Lincoln School.

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