Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said Friday he plans to ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to give him the authority to mandate masks for all K-12 public school students, teachers and staff through Oct. 1.
Riley said in a statement that the reason for the mask mandate is to ensure that schools fully reopen safely and to give students and teachers more time to get vaccinated.
“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," Riley said.
After Oct. 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 an 80% vaccination rate.
The mask mandate will only apply indoors and to children 5 and older. It will also include exceptions for students who cannot wear a mask due to medical conditions or other behavioral needs.
Riley said he will revisit the mandate in the near future and revise it as warranted by public health data.
“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,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. "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.”
Sen. Becca Rausch, a Democrat who had been pushing for masks in schools, applauded the move while also criticizing the Baker Administration in a statement issued Friday.
"Families across Massachusetts will finally have peace of mind sending their children back to classrooms with the protection of universal masking in K-12 schools," she said. "This victory belongs to every student, parent, teacher, school committee member, public health expert, and advocate who joined me in speaking up for science and safety."
"The Baker Administration owes our Commonwealth an apology for holding our communities’ health and well-being in limbo until mere days before our children return to school, and I urge the Governor to extend these same protections to our early education settings," Rausch added. "Statewide data-driven public health measures will give our children the safe, supportive, and successful school year they deserve."