The statewide mask mandate for public school students ages K-12 will be lifted by Monday February 28, Gov. Charlie Baker and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) announced this morning.
“With Massachusetts a national leader in vaccinating kids, combined with our robust testing programs, it is time to lift the mask mandate in schools and give students and staff a sense of normalcy after dealing with enormous challenges over the past two years,” Baker said in today’s press conference.
This announcement came as other states across the country, such as Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, began to lift their mask mandates for students in their public schools in response to decreasing COVID-19 positive rates.
According to the DESE, the decision to lift the mask mandate for Massachusetts public school students came after the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate dropped by 85% since this past January. Infectious disease physicians across the state as well as the state Department of Health (DPH) were also consulted prior to the announcement.
“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,” Massachusetts DESE Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley said.
“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,” he added.
After the lifting of the statewide mask requirement, school districts will no longer need to request a waiver from the DESE to remove masks in school buildings where 80% of staff and students are vaccinated.
The DESE has received 68 requests from schools that have submitted proof that 80% of their students and staff are vaccinated. The department has also approved 42 requests and are currently in the process of reviewing another 21 requests before the statewide requirement ends.
With more than 2,000 public and private schools in the state participating in COVID-19 testing, DESE and DPH have gathered abundant data about the prevalence of COVID-19 in schools that clearly illustrates schools are safe environments for teaching and learning” Riley said, “in part because schools are one of the few types of settings in the state where individuals are tested on a regular basis.”
There were 42 schools which had already lifted their mask mandates prior to today’s announcement by the Massachusetts State government, however Westford Public Schools were not among them, even though Westford has been experiencing a decrease in COVID-19 positive cases.
Despite his announcement that school’s will be lifting mask mandates by the end of the month, Baker’s press conference was interrupted when nine protestors breached the State House security and entered the building, which is currently closed to the public.
According to the protestors, they came “to witness the press conference”, and to “try to face Baker because he’s not accessible anywhere else.”
“We can’t get near Baker’s house so we have to try to find him at public appearances just to talk to him,” one of the protestors said.
The protestors were demanding an end to the State House’s closure to the public, as well as the mask and vaccine mandates. They believe that Baker’s decision to lift the school mask mandates was not enough action, given that Massachusetts residents have lost their jobs over their refusal to comply with mask and vaccine mandates.