State Education Chief Seeks Mandatory Masks in Schools Through at Least Oct. 1

Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley, right, with Gov. Charlie Baker. (Photograph by Sam Doran/SHNS.)

The state’s education chief, backed by Gov. Charlie Baker, has added his voice to call for mandatory masks in public schools.

Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley plans to ask the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education tomorrow to grant him authority to require masks for all public K-12 students, educators and staff through Oct.1 to ensure schools reopen safely and to provide time for more students and educators 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,” said Riley.

His move follows a growing number of school districts, including Haverhill, to require students wear masks as more infections by COVID-19 Delta variant are reported.

“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,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “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.”

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 a certain vaccination rate—at least 80% of students and staff in a school building are vaccinated. Unvaccinated students and staff would still be required to wear masks.

The mask mandate will only apply indoors and to children 5 and older. It includes exceptions for students who cannot wear a mask due to medical conditions or behavioral needs.

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