DESE mask mandate now in place for MA public schools

BOSTON — Masks are now mandatory across the state’s public schools as school districts have received the official mandate voted in by education officials.

The mandate became effective immediately on Wednesday, one day after education officials voted on the measure on Tuesday.

Education Commissioner Jeff Riley sought the authority to implement the mandate, which requires all school staff and students, kindergarten through grade 12, to wear masks indoors when returning to school in the fall at least through Oct. 1.

The policy applies to children who are five years old or older.

“The backdrop to this is a group of public health officials who have largely called for us to take certain views with respect to masks,” said DESE board member Matt Hills

The mandate will not go into effect immediately, though. It will go into effect when Riley formally issues the mandate, which is expected to be issued Wednesday.

Parents outside DESE headquarters were not happy on Tuesday.

“We’re angry, but we are not going to comply. We have parents that are not going to comply in the schools, and we have other parents that are going to be pulling their kids from the schools. We are looking at homeschooling groups and other private options,” said Alexa Deuso.

Several of the parents Boston 25 News spoke with said they are pulling their kids out of public schools in the fall.

“I am now homeschooling my children for the second year in a row, my children do not want to wear a mask and they should not be forced to wear a mask,” said Rayla Campbell.

After Oct. 1, the mandate would be lifted for middle and high school students who are vaccinated but only if at least 80% of students and staff have been vaccinated in their building. Unvaccinated students would still have to wear masks.

Exceptions include students who cannot wear masks due to medical conditions or behavioral needs.

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

One DESE board member voted no.

“In the grand scheme of things – hospitalizations and death rates are low – and as has been proven, children are dramatically lower risk of getting hospitalized, and that’s a blessing,” said Paymon Rouhanifard.

Riley says he will revisit it “in the near future” and “revise it as warranted by public health data.”

Boston Children’s Hospital released a statement regarding the decision Tuesday:

“We strongly support the school mask requirement, which will reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our schools, and help protect students, faculty and staff, as well as families. Students should also continue to maximize distancing inside schools, practice hand hygiene and stay home when sick. In addition, it is critically important that students age 12 and older get vaccinated.”

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