Acting Mayor Kim Janey on Thursday afternoon said Boston Public Schools students will be required to wear masks when they return to classrooms in the fall, in a bid to continue fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Janey revealed the safety precaution during a City Hall news conference where two new members of the School Committee were sworn-in. She said masks currently are required in all municipal buildings and noted that some children are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Students in summer school and other city programs are currently wearing masks.
“This fall they will be wearing masks still,” she said. The city’s 125 schools have a student enrollment of about 50,000.
That precaution was met with the backing of the Boston Teachers Union, which has more than 10,000 members.
“With the uncertainty surrounding the delta variant, low vaccine rates for students 12-17 and no options for children under 12, we agree with Mayor Janey’s choice to play it as safe as possible,” said Jessica Tang, the union’s president, in a statement. “Once vaccines are available and approved for young children, it will certainly make sense to reevaluate, but right now we agree with the Mayor that these steps are necessary to protect the health and safety of our students.”
Janey’s comments came days after the American Academy of Pediatrics called for everyone older than age 2 to wear masks in school this fall, even if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.The academy noted that federal regulators have not yet authorized COVID vaccines for children under age 12, leaving millions of youngsters vulnerable to infection. The group emphasized that universal masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and protect those who aren’t vaccinated.
Such a recommendation contradicted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which announced earlier this month that vaccinated students and staff members no longer will need to wear masks inside schools, but schools should try to continue to space children at least three feet apart in classrooms.
Earlier this year, Massachusetts school officials said they would be dropping all coronavirus-related protocols — including social distancing — for the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
And on Thursday, Governor Charlie Baker said he has no plans to change COVID-19 rules as the state is seeing a rise in cases, possibly due to the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
City officials in Cambridge, meanwhile, are reporting a rise in new COVID-19 cases and are urging residents, whether they are vaccinated or not, to wear masks and practice social distancing “where transmission is likely and when around unvaccinated people, including young children.”
In addition to her comments about students wearing masks in the fall, Janey announced Thursday the appointments of two Latina mothers of Boston Public Schools students to the Boston School Committee, making good on her pledge to fill the “void” of Latino representation after a texting scandal led to the resignations of two members.
The newly sworn-in members are Lorena Lopera, the Massachusetts executive director of Latinos for Education, and Rafaela Polanco Garcia, director of parent engagement and organizing at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs which serves BPS students. The appointments return more Latino representation to the Boston School Committee, which oversees a district where 43 percent of students are Hispanic.
Previous Globe coverage was used in this report.