More than 900 students and staff in the Toms River Regional School District are under quarantine for possible COVID-19 exposure.

School officials say the district's mask policy is not to blame after news reports on Wednesday cited parent protests against mask-wearing.

The district's COVID-19 dashboard reports that 864 students or 6% of the district's nearly 15,500 total enrollment are quarantined. Another 26 staff members, or just over 1% of all employees, are also quarantined. The dashboard does not break down the numbers by the school.

The district is the sixth-largest in the state.

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Since the beginning of the school year, the district has counted 218 cases of COVID among students and 33 cases among staff.

District spokesman Michael Kenny said reports that 1,100 students were in quarantine this week are incorrect because the reports were combining current quarantine numbers with cumulative case totals since the start of the year, an apples-to-oranges comparison.

He also called reports that the district started the school year mask-optional "misleading and unfounded."

"For eight school days to begin the year, TRRS exercised the 'excessive heat' exemption in Executive Order 251, but masks were only optional in buildings and spaces which did not have air conditioning. Since Sept. 20, the wearing of masks in all spaces has been required throughout the district, as per [Executive Order] 251," Kenny said.

The masking of students in the district in accordance with Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order requiring all students to wear a face-covering indoors was the subject of heated discussion at a board of education meeting on August 18.

Parents shouted over Acting Superintendent Stephen Genco and the district's attorney, who tried to explain the district could not ignore Murphy's mandate.

The numbers come as the state reports a 60% spike in the number of outbreaks in less than a week, up from 23 last week to 39 this week with 219 staffers and students linked to the outbreaks. As of Tuesday, there were no outbreaks reported in Ocean County on the state dashboard.

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