The mask mandate for Massachusetts public schools will remain in effect through at least Nov. 1, education officials announced Monday, adding the date when some schools can apply to lift that mandate by showing an 80% vaccination rate for students and staff.
Middle and high schools that have reached that target can apply to lift the mandate on Oct. 15, though schools that have already reached the threshold can apply earlier than that as well, Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley told Massachusetts school districts, according to a news release.
Under the mask mandate, which went into effect in August and had been set to run through at least Oct. 1, students in public schools age 5 and older, as well as all public school staff and visitors, must wear masks indoors. Children under 5 are also recommended to wear masks.
Anyone who has a medical reason is exempted from the mask requirement, along with students with behavioral issues that prevent them from wearing masks. Face shields may be an alternative.
The mask requirement doesn't apply when students and staff are eating, drinking or when they're taking "mask breaks," which may occur throughout the day. Those breaks are encouraged for when students are outdoors, like at recess, or when windows are open.
The order from DESE has left discipline for not following the mask mandate up to school districts.
"The best interest of students and staff as they return safely to full-time, in-person instruction this fall is at the forefront of my decision. Wearing masks is an important additional measure to keep students in school safely at this time," Riley said in a statement Monday.
Education Secretary James Peyser noted that some communities may want to quickly submit their vaccination rate verification quickly while others may want to stick with masking. "This policy allows communities to make the decision at the local level," he added.