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For some in Mass. upon return from school vacation, students will be unmasked

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Socially distanced classroom seating during a COVID-19 pandemic.
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Socially distanced classroom seating during a COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week's announcement from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker that public schools may unmask at the end of the month put the spotlight on local officials.

That means when K-12 students return from school vacation next week, some students will be unmasked. But not everyone.

They still have the option of requiring masks in their schools — which Springfield has done.

It's become a contentious issue in some communities.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about the reaction to the announcement from Beacon Hill.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: As you'd expect, reaction to the governor's announcement that he wouldn't be extending the school mask mandate has drawn mixed emotions.

You're seeing it in the medical community, among lawmakers, school districts — some are just not ready to take the masks down.

But I think what we heard, especially from some Democrats, was maybe the governor moved a little early.

Candidate for governor Danielle Allen said she supports a move such as allowing children and teachers to take down their masks when the transmission rates fall. But she thought perhaps maybe a March 7 date would give more time for the omicron surge to wane and also allow for students to come back for a full week after vacation when they're out, perhaps traveling, and make sure that schools are going to be safe moving forward.

But for now this is a local decision, and we're seeing different cities like Springfield, like Boston, where they're not ready to drop the mask mandate just yet, tackle this very differently.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Democratic candidate for governor Sonia Chang-Diaz came out against Baker's move, while fellow candidate Attorney General Maura Healey did not offer a definitive opinion when we asked her about it on Friday. So what is that political calculus here?

Chang-Diaz has definitely been very critical of the governor's handling of the pandemic and also a bit more on the cautious side.

When it comes to some of these — we've heard from the teacher’s unions they're concerned, especially if you work in certain buildings that are tighter with poorer ventilation. It is the winter. You can't open windows.

And I think these are some of the concerns you're seeing candidates like Chang-Diaz reflect.

You're hearing something similar from Maura Healey, who has said, let's follow the data, and if the data supports it, then you know, let's go ahead and do it.

The governor decided that the data did support it, at least statewide. But that is why you're seeing him also say that locals have the ability, if conditions are worse in their city or town, to keep the masks on.

This week, Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano intends to bring to the floor a bill that would allow immigrants not authorized to be in the country to get driver's licenses. Baker opposes the concept. This idea has been debated for years. Why have lawmakers decided now is the right time to move this bill?

Baker has opposed this, in principle. He said he just does not see how you could implement a license program like this and address all of the safety concerns.

But House lawmakers feel they have done that with this bill, through the documentation they would require in lieu of the documentation of someone living in the United States legally.

The House believes now is the time to do this because they have seen momentum growing on Beacon Hill for years now. A majority of lawmakers in both the House and Senate have co-sponsored legislation like this.

Last year, it favorably got out of committee and went to the Senate, where it never emerged for a vote.

I talked to the chairman of the Transportation Committee last week, Bill Strauss, and he said, "It's our turn now."

And House leaders intend to put this on the floor — we believe Wednesday — and they think they have the support.

One thing House Speaker Ron Mariano said that he was conscious and aware of, was making sure he could round up enough votes to potentially override a gubernatorial veto, should one come. We'll see Wednesday whether they get to that threshold.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.