When students return to the campuses of Rutgers University next week to begin the spring semester, they will not be required to mask up.

Faculty unions have lost their case to allow individual professors to decide if masks would be required in their classrooms and lecture halls.

In a unanimous decision, the state Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) ruled in favor school officials' decision to universally lift the mask mandate.

Masks will still be required in all clinical settings, including for students enrolled in medical, dental and nursing programs.

Rutgers lifted the mask mandate on Sept. 26, as part of efforts to give students "a vibrant, in-person college experience."

"As the COVID-19 virus continues to move from pandemic toward endemic, we are eager to return the university to normal operations as much as responsibly possible," Rutgers Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Antonio M. Calcado wrote in a message on the university website.

However, three faculty unions took the matter before the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), and won a temporary restraining order against that policy.

Rebecca Givan, President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, says school administrators did not consult with the unions before lifting the mask policy.

In a final 4-0 decision, PERC ruled the decision by Rutgers did not violate collective bargaining rules, and the union did not present enough health and scientific evidence to support forcing students to wear a mask.

That may not, however, be the end of this fight.

Givan says she is "deeply disappointed" in the decision, and tells NJ.com the union may ultimately take the matter to court.

She noted the CDC is now recommending indoor masking due to high levels of COVID transmission in all 21 New Jersey Counties, "Yet the University has instead chosen not to protect members of our Community."

When Rutgers initially lifted the mask mandate, Antonio M. Calcado, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, said the decision "was based on current state and federal practices and is rooted in science and data."

On Wednesday, Calcado posted a letter to students on the Rutgers website announcing that the mask requirements were lifted for the spring semester.

"The university continues to monitor all relevant health and safety issues, specifically COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and Influenza (Flu)," Calcado wrote, "I want to remind you of the important health and safety protocols that remain in effect across the university."

He noted while masks were not required, they were "strongly encouraged." Rutgers is also recommending all students be tested for COVID-19 before returning to the campus.

Eric Scott is the senior political director and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at eric.scott@townsquaremedia.com

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