Baker Administration Does About-Face On Masks In Public Schools – Board Likely To Approve Statewide Mask Mandate In Massachusetts

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The state’s education commissioner is seeking authorization to require all students and staff at public schools in Massachusetts to wear masks indoors at least through October 1.

The announcement on Friday, August 20 is an about-face for the administration of Governor Charlie Baker, who has repeatedly in recent weeks said he did not plan to return to statewide mask mandates. Baker has previously said he planned to allow local officials to make their own decisions.

The new policy for public schools would enable middle school and high school students to stop wearing masks if at least 80 percent of students and staff in a school are vaccinated for coronavirus – though unvaccinated students and staff would still have to wear masks.

“The mandate would include exceptions for students who cannot wear a mask due to medical conditions or behavioral needs,” the statement from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday, August 20 says.

The statement released Friday on behalf of state education commissioner Jeffrey Riley does not mention private schools.

The governor expressed support for Riley’s announcement, though he described it as Riley’s decision.

“I think the decision he’s making, which is basically designed to ensure as clean an opening as you can possibly have, to deal with any anxiety people may have as they return to school — and to create some serious incentives for middle and high school kids to get vaccinated — is an appropriate response,” Baker said during a press conference Friday, August 20 (at 28:23 of the video).

The governor has previously said that because of the state’s high vaccination rate and relatively low coronavirus numbers, a statewide mask mandate isn’t necessary. He didn’t cite any changes in state statistics during his press conference.

Riley needs approval for the statewide mask mandate from the Baker-appointed state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which meets Tuesday, August 24.

Baker put in a plug for the coronavirus vaccine during his press conference.

“I want to see more people get vaccinated, too. It really is the only way out of this,” Baker said.

The governor is cracking down on unvaccinated state executive branch employees, issuing an order requiring that they get a coronavirus vaccine unless they get a medical exemption or a religious exemption.

Baker said he doesn’t want to offer people an option to get tested for coronavirus regularly if they aren’t vaccinated.

“You know, there’s been a lot written about the fact that when you have the regular testing option, people don’t get vaccinated,” Baker said (at 33:36 of the video).


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