By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley has implemented a state-wide mask mandate for all public school students and faculty.
The mandate takes effect as of Aug. 25 and runs through at least Oct. 1. Tied to the mandate is the goal of 80 percent of students and staff being vaccinated against COVID-19. Should a school meet this criteria before Oct. 1, those who have been vaccinated would no longer be subject to the mandate. At this time the vaccine can only be administered to children age 12 or older.
“DESE will provide additional information to districts in the coming weeks in preparation for the October 1 date, including how to demonstrate the 80% vaccination rate threshold,” a statement from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education read.
The mandate applies to all students age 5 years or older. However, School Superintendent John Antonucci said at a Board of Health meeting that he is considering extending this to the younger students in pre-kindergarten. Staff in all schools and visitors will be required to wear masks when indoors.
Students and staff who cannot wear a mask for medical or behavioral reasons are exempted from the requirement.
The mask requirement applies when students and staff are indoors at school, except when eating, drinking, or during mask breaks or outdoor recess. In addition, masks may also be removed indoors when necessary for elective classes, such as the to use wind instruments in band. When traditional masks cannot be worn, districts should consider the use of instrument masks (masks with a slit or hole cut for the mouthpiece) or bell covers, along with physical distancing or outdoor classes.
Masks are required for any sports-related activity for student-athletes and coaches when indoors, in alignment with guidance provided by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. By federal public health order, all students and staff are required to wear a mask on school buses.
On the subject of disciplining students who fail to wear a mask, the mandate states that this decision must be made on the local level. The mandate states that districts should consult with legal counsel to address these matters and provide written notice to families about expectations and consequences.
Each district must submit a plan confirming that their health and safety procedures are consistent with the mask requirement.
“Keeping students connected with school is especially important this fall, as students return to school after a challenging school year,” the statement reads.