Education commissioner plans to ask DESE board to mandate masks for all K-12 public schools

BOSTON — On Friday morning, Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley announced that he 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.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told Boston 25 News this request is to ensure public schools can fully reopen safely and provide time for more students and educators to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“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.”

After October 1, the commissioner’s policy states that the state 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. Within the policy, the required vaccination rate must be at least 80 percent for students and staff in a school building, and that all unvaccinated individuals will be required to wear masks. But The mandate would include exceptions for students who cannot wear a mask due to medical conditions or behavioral needs.

“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.”

The mask mandate will only apply to people indoors and children five or older.

Commissioner Riley will be asking the board to meet on Tuesday, August 24, to vote on instituting the mask mandate.

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