The second-largest school district in Massachusetts will require that all students and staff wear masks to begin the 2021-22 school year.
The Worcester School Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday that upon returning to school Aug. 30, all students and staff members will be required to wear masks to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Worcester School Superintendent Maureen Binienda made the recommendation prior to Wednesday's meeting.
The order will apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated members of the school community.
Vaccination rates among teenagers remain relatively low in the state's second-largest city. MassLive reported that only 38% of residents ages 16 to 19 are fully vaccinated in Worcester; that figure drops to 34% among 12- to 15-year-olds.
Worcester is among several school districts in the Bay State to implement a mask mandate, including Boston, but there has yet to be a statewide order introduced.
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"As onerous as they can be, masks work -- we know this," said Dr. Michael Hirsh, the city's medical director. "Kids are very resilient, and they're very capable of adaptation. They've done very well with masks."
A vaccine mandate was discussed at the school committee meeting as well, but no action was taken. Binienda has said that an across-the-board mandate would "remove some of the stigma and logistical challenges of constantly checking which students and employees were vaccinated and thus wouldn't have to wear a face covering."
Options for remote learning, which is currently not on the table in the state, were also broached at the meeting.
"I think they [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] have blocked options," school committee member Dianna Biancheria said. "If cases do open up, perhaps they'll have an open mind."