Friday, July 30, 2021

New COVID-19 Guidance for Schools Districts for Fall 2021 from Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Margret R. Cooke, Acting Commissioner, Department of Public Health


• This fall, DESE and DPH strongly recommend that all students in kindergarten through grade 6 wear masks when indoors, except students who cannot do so due to medical conditions or behavioral needs. Masks are not necessary outdoors and may be removed while eating indoors.

• DESE and DPH also strongly recommend that unvaccinated staff in all grades, unvaccinated students in grades 7 and above, and unvaccinated visitors wear masks indoors, in alignment with the statewide advisory on masking.

• DESE and DPH recommend that schools allow vaccinated students to remain unmasked.

• Any individual at higher risk for severe disease from COVID or with a household member who is at high risk is encouraged to mask regardless of vaccination status consistent with the updated DPH Advisory on Face Coverings and Masks.

• Any child or family who prefers to mask at school should be supported in this choice.

• By federal public health order, all students and staff are required to wear masks on school buses at this time.

• All staff and students must wear masks while in school health offices. Additional guidance for school health professionals is forthcoming from DPH.

Please note: DESE and DPH will continue to consult with medical advisors and may update the masking requirements above as we learn more about COVID-19’s effects on hospitalizations in Massachusetts and on children.

COVID-19 testing:

Districts and schools are highly encouraged to maintain or establish a robust plan for COVID-19 testing in schools, including both diagnostic testing and screening (pooled) testing for students and staff. DESE and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services will continue to offer these services at no cost to districts. These no cost services will include optional support for districts who would like additional staff to conduct testing on-site and/or help with testing logistics and communication.

Diagnostic testing, such as the BinaxNOW rapid antigen test, is an important tool for use in testing asymptomatic close contacts as part of updated quarantine guidance (see below). Diagnostic testing is especially important this year, as we head into cold and flu season. Districts are strongly encouraged to sign up for the statewide COVID-19 testing program as soon as it becomes available later in August to minimize the number of students required to quarantine outside of school.

Contact tracing and quarantine protocols:

DESE and DPH will soon release a new version of the “Protocols for Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios” document. As part of this guidance, districts in the statewide testing program or using other approved diagnostic tests will be able to implement a new “test and stay” protocol in lieu of requiring asymptomatic close contacts to quarantine. Under test and stay, asymptomatic close contacts will have the option to remain in school and be tested daily with BinaxNOW for at least 5 days. Vaccinated staff and students are exempt from quarantine.