Boston Public Schools

Boston Public Schools to Drop Mask Mandate Right Before Summer Vacation

The recommendation from the Boston Public Health Commission is based upon a recent decline in COVID cases and hospitalizations, as well as fewer traces of the virus showing up in the city's wastewater

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With little time remaining in the current school year, Boston Public Schools students and staffs will no longer be required to wear face masks starting next week.

Boston Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bisola Ojikutu sent a letter to BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius on Wednesday that advised masking no longer be required indoors in the district's schools beginning Monday, June 13.

Masking will continue to be required in school health offices, however.

Students, parents and staff who choose to mask will be supported in that choice, city health officials said.

The recommendation from the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) is based upon a recent decline in COVID cases and hospitalizations, as well as fewer traces of the virus showing up in the city's wastewater, the letter said.

If the proposal is approved, it could determine who has the responsibility to fix Boston schools.

The COVID-19 policy decision was left to local leaders after the statewide school mask mandate ended in February, and BPS was among the last remaining districts across the state to keep its requirement in place that masks be worn in school.

According to Wednesday's letter, the BPHC made its recommendation after comparing publicly-available COVID-19 case rate data among students in Boston schools versus school districts in three neighboring communities: Brookline, Cambridge and Newton.

"The number of cases per 1,000 students was significantly lower among Boston school students than among each of the other three public school districts during the period when BPS required masking and the other districts were mask optional," the letter reads.

BPHC advised Wednesday that the district's schools require masks indoors under certain circumstances, including for students and staff who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 but return to school before the end of their 10 day isolation period; for students and staff who are identified as part of a cluster investigation with in-school transmission, or while a cluster being investigated; and for students and staff who are experiencing COVID symptoms while in school.

Starting this fall, the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says it will suspend its COVID testing program.

At least one parent questioned the decision's timing, noting how few school days are left.

The last day of school for Boston Public Schools students is listed on the district's calendar as June 22, though it was not immediately clear if weather cancellations have extended the school year at all.

Following months of rising COVID cases in Massachusetts schools, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reported a statewide decline in positive coronavirus cases last Thursday for a second consecutive week, with 6,106 new cases among students and 1,941 among staff in its weekly COVID report covering May 26 through June 1.

State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley announced last month that Massachusetts will end its state-run school COVID-19 testing program after this school year, and will no longer supply self-tests or other COVID testing services to schools. At the same time, the Department of Public Health also updated the isolation and quarantine guidance for children in child care centers and other educational settings so that asymptomatic children who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 are no longer required to quarantine.

A scathing report on Boston Public Schools found a need for "immediate improvement."

The BPHC noted Wednesday that indoor masking remains an important strategy to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and encouraged face masks in indoor public settings, on transportation and at school-sponsored activities. Indoor mask use is also strongly recommended for adults and children who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who have or live with people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe COVID-19 disease.

Ojikutu told Cassellius in her letter that the city's health commission continues to recommend a layered approach to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in school settings, including participating in the districtwide COVID-19 testing program; maximizing outdoor activities, classes and lunches; opening windows in classrooms, school buses and other transportation vehicles; maintaining good hand hygiene practices; staying home when sick, and following all quarantine and isolation guidance.

The BPHC is also strongly urging all eligible people to receive a COVID vaccine and booster and will continue to support schools with vaccination clinics.

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