Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Jeffery Riley announced the mask mandate for Massachusetts schools K through 12 will not be extended beyond the end of February.
“We are making masks optional for all students, teachers and staff,” stated Riley. “Masking will be an individual choice in schools across the Commonwealth on February 28th, unless a school district decides to establish a local requirement”.
The decision was made after consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, infectious disease physicians and the Governor’s office. In place of the mask mandate DESE is issuing guidance to school districts for using masks in specific scenarios.
“During the past two years, the impact of COVID-19 on children has caused a strain on their mental health, emotional well-being and academic success. We are relieved to now be in a place where we can provide young people additional relief from COVID-19 restrictions so they can continue to return to normalcy in the classroom,” said Riley.
Massachusetts has one of the highest vaccination rates of young people in the country, is second in vaccination of 5 to 11 year olds and 82% of 16 to 19 year olds have gotten at least the first shot. Testing and vaccination programs in Massachusetts schools will remain including the at-home rapid test option. Riley reiterated that mask wearing is an independent decision.
“While masking is no longer a state wide requirement we ask all school leaders and students to make sure they respect all individual choices around mask wearing,” Riley stated. “Please make sure to create a supportive environment that respects everyone’s choice to do what is most appropriate and comfortable for them.”
Governor Baker remarked on the efforts of DESE and Secretary of Education James Peyser.
“Today’s announcement is another big step forward to safely manage COVID while we get back to what I would describe as the familiar and normal aspects of school and life,” said Baker.