August 24, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
The Massachusetts Board of Education today (Aug. 24) granted Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley — at his request — authority to mandate statewide the wearing of masks indoors for all K-12 public schools students age five and older, educators, and staff to begin the new school year.
Last night the Hingham School Committee approved a mask policy that actually goes further than Riley’s because it includes pre-K students.
The committee’s mask policy will remain in place until rescinded by the School Committee and will be reviewed following release of new Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requirements/guidance and on a regular basis as needed.
Visit https://www.hinghamanchor.com/school-committee-approves-face-coverings-policy-for-return-to-school/ for full details of the School Committee’s approved mask policy.
Riley’s mandate is in effect until at least Oct. 1 in order to provide time to increase the vaccination rate in the schools.
This decision comes one day after the FDA granted Pfizer and BioNTech full approval of their Covid-19 vaccine in the United States.
Up until Aug. 19, decisions related to health and safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools had been left to individual communities based on local data.
As students and staff prepare to return to school full-time, in-person, Riley stated recently, "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."
After October 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 percent of students and staff in a school building are vaccinated. Unvaccinated students and staff would still be required to wear face masks.
Riley’s mask mandate applies indoors and to children ages 5 and older and would include exceptions for students who cannot wear a mask due to medical conditions or behavioral needs.
Riley will revisit any such mandate for possible revision as warranted by public health data.
“Our goal remains to get as many people as possible vaccinated,” Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said recently. “We hope that by instituting vaccine benchmarks among school populations, we will create a real incentive for students and staff to get vaccinated so they can remove their masks.”