Commissioner of Education to request state-wide mask mandate

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By Max

Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley will go before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education next Tuesday to seek a state-wide mask mandate for all K-12 students.

According to a press release issued on Aug. 20, the mandate, if granted, would require masks for all public K-12 students, educators, and staff through Oct. 1 to “ensure schools fully reopen safely and to provide time for more students and educators to get vaccinated.”

If at least 80 percent of students and staff in middle/high schools have been vaccinated, the mandate would be lifted for those persons after Oct. 1. Unvaccinated students and staff would still be required to wear masks. The mandate would include exceptions for students who cannot wear a mask due to medical conditions or behavioral needs.

The commissioner would revisit the mandate to revise as public health data warrants. The statement said that the purpose is to encourage higher vaccination rates among the schools and to implement a uniform policy to begin the year.

While Massachusetts leads the nation in vaccination rates, we are seeing a recent rise in COVID-19 cases because we still need more people to get vaccinated. This step will increase vaccinations among our students and school staff and ensure that we have a safe school reopening,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Vaccinations are the best way to keep everyone in the Commonwealth safe, and we will continue to work with school districts to offer vaccination clinics at schools across the Commonwealth.”

State Sen. Becca Rausch has been a strong supporter for a state-wide mask mandate, even filing a bill that called for one. In a statement, she said that Baker should extend this to the early education schools.

Families across Massachusetts will finally have peace of mind sending their children back to classrooms with the protection of universal masking in K-12 schools,” wrote Rausch. “This victory belongs to every student, parent, teacher, school committee member, public health expert, and advocate who joined me in speaking up for science and safety.”

The current guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is a strong recommendation that all K-6 students wear masks and that those unvaccinated students in grades 7 and above wear them. It is the only COVID guidance issued. Elements such as social distancing and reduced class sizes are not required.

School Superintendent John Antonucci has said that the plan would be to follow that guidance and update as more information comes out.

Riley has asked the board to meet on Tuesday, Aug. 24, to vote to give him this authority to institute the mandate.

“As students and staff prepare to return to school full-time, in-person, our priority is on a smooth reopening,” he said. “With cases rising, this mask mandate will provide one more measure to support the health and safety of our students and staff this fall.”