Education officials in Massachusetts on Friday issued new guidance strongly recommending students in sixth grade and below wear masks indoors when classes begin in the fall.
In a statement, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education outlined its health and safety guidelines for the fall, including recommendations on face coverings and COVID-19 testing.
All Massachusetts school districts will be required to be in-person on a full-time basis in the fall, according to the department. The guidance released Friday will replace previous COVID-19 requirements.
"All schools and all districts must be open every day to every student, no matter what," Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday. "The documented negative impact on children that resulted from the uneven, unpredictable and profoundly difficult year that students had last year cannot and must not happen again. In-person learning is the only available option for Massachusetts schools and their students, and hopefully today's guidance will help local officials finish their preparations as they get ready to welcome back their students in the fall."
According to DESE, the guidance is a recommendation for districts, and "individual districts should make decisions based on their own particular circumstances."
The mask guidance is as follows:
- 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.
In addition, DESE urged all schools, particularly those with vaccination rates below the state average, to hold on-site vaccination clinics during summer orientation or when classes begin. According to the state, an approved mobile vaccination provider will be assigned to schools that are interested.
The guidance comes amid rising COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts and across the country as the highly-contagious delta variant proliferates.
Boston Mayor Kim Janey last week said city students will be required to wear masks in the fall.
"Many of our children are not eligible to receive a vaccine. The mask is the best protection," Boston Mayor Kim Janey said at a news conference Thursday. "Children are currently wearing masks as they are in summer school, and at different programs around the city, and this fall, they will be wearing masks still."