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Regional News

In Shift, Massachusetts Education Commissioner Seeks School Mask Mandate

Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, who appeared at a Rockport school press conference in February 2021.
Nicolaus Czarnecki
/
Pool / The Boston Herald / State House News Service
Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, who appeared at a Rockport school press conference in February 2021.

The Massachusetts education commissioner is seeking authority to mandate that students ages 5 and up, staff and educators in public K-12 schools wear masks indoors through Oct. 1, a measure that will come before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for a vote Tuesday.

After that, the policy Commissioner Jeff Riley is pursuing would allow middle and high schools to lift their mask mandates for vaccinated students and staff, but only if at least 80% of students and staff in that school building are vaccinated. Unvaccinated students and staff would still be required to wear masks.

The Baker administration has been recommending, but not requiring, that unvaccinated people — including younger students not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines — wear masks in schools, leaving the exact policies to local officials who Gov. Charlie Baker has said are best-suited to make calls for their communities. The Massachusetts Medical Society has been among the groups recommending universal masking in schools.

The shift in approach comes a day after Baker mandated that workers in the state's executive branch be fully vaccinated by mid-October.

State education officials described the move as a way "to ensure schools fully reopen safely and to provide time for more students and educators to get vaccinated," and said that Riley would "revisit the mandate in the near future to revise it as warranted by public health data."

"The vaccination rates among young people in Massachusetts are among the highest in the nation, with 65% of 12- to 15-year-olds vaccinated, but we still need to do more to make sure our young people and educators are protected from COVID-19," Education Secretary James Peyser said. "Instituting universal masking mandates to further encourage vaccination rates among everyone in our schools is one measure we can take now."

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