State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley this week extended the statewide public schools mask mandate for a second time – through at least Jan. 15.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education authorized Riley last August to require masks to be worn by all K-12 public school students ages 5 and older, educators, staff members, and visitors until at least Oct. 1 to allow time to increase the vaccination rate in public school buildings.
That authorization means that face masks are required indoors – except when eating or drinking and during mask breaks – with some exceptions. Masks must also be worn on school buses.
This latest decision was made “after consulting with medical experts and state health officials,” according to a press release issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “The Department will continue to work with medical experts and state health officials to evaluate the mask requirement beyond Jan. 15.”
Before the date was extended until at least mid-January, Riley, at his discretion, had already extended the date to Nov. 1 or later.
Currently, if a public school reaches a combined vaccination threshold of 80 percent or more among students and staff and is able to show proof of this through an attestation form submitted to the DESE, then vaccinated individuals in that school would no longer be subject to the state mask requirement.
“Whether or not a school or district avails themselves of the 80 percent vaccination off ramp is a local decision to be made by school and district leaders in consultation with local health officials,” according to the DESE. “In alignment with statewide guidance, unvaccinated students and staff would be required to continue wearing masks.”
Massachusetts is considered to be a national leader in high vaccination rates for adults and also for children and teens who are currently eligible to be administered the vaccine.
“The Commonwealth’s high vaccination rates and low transmission rates are other important factors supporting in-person learning,” the press release states. “In addition, with the expected announcement of the vaccine becoming available for children ages 5-11 in the coming weeks, an extension of the mask requirement would allow time for the elementary school population to receive the vaccine.”