Friday, August 20, 2021

Education Commissioner Riley to Ask Board to Grant Him Authority to Mandate Masks for All K-12 Public Schools to Provide Time to Increase Vaccinations

MALDEN – Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley will ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to grant him authority to mandate masks for all public K-12 students, educators, and staff through October 1 to ensure schools fully reopen safely and to provide time for more students and educators to get vaccinated. After October 1, the commissioner’s policy would allow middle and high schools to lift the mask mandate for vaccinated students and staff only if the school meets a certain vaccination rate – at least 80 percent of students and staff in a school building are vaccinated. 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 will revisit the mandate in the near future to revise it as warranted by public health data. The purpose of the policy is to encourage higher vaccination rates among students and staff and to implement a uniform policy for all schools 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 Governor 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.”

“Our goal remains to get as many people as possible vaccinated,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We hope that by instituting vaccine benchmarks among school populations we will create a real incentive for students and staff to get vaccinated so they can remove their masks.”

The mask mandate will only apply indoors and to children 5 and older.

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

“Mask wearing in schools, along with hand washing and good personal hygiene, are important public health measures that will help mitigate any potential spread in the classroom, but increasing vaccination in our eligible residents is the most important thing we can do to ensure a safe return to the classroom for this upcoming school year,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders.

Commissioner Riley asked the board to meet on Tuesday, August 24, to vote to give him this authority to institute the mask mandate.

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

Mobile Vaccination Clinics

The Administration offers mobile pop-up vaccination clinics that take place in a community-based setting, including schools. The clinics are organized to bring vaccines to a community setting and are available to employers, schools and school districts, community organizations, and other groups. An organization can submit a request for mobile vaccination services here.

COVID-19 Testing in Schools

DESE and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services will once again offer screening and diagnostic testing at no cost to all public, private, and parochial schools as an additional mitigation strategy for COVID-19. Last year, the Administration launched the first-in-the nation pooled testing initiative in schools across the Commonwealth that found low positivity rates – far less than 1 percent – among students and staff. Diagnostic and routine (weekly) COVID-19 pooled testing services will be available at no cost to all schools through the end of the 2021-22 school year, under a single contract with the testing provider CIC Health.