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Massachusetts students might be required to wear masks in September. Here’s what to know

Second-grade students wore masks during summer school at the Horace Mann School in Salem.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/file

Massachusetts may be on the precipice of issuing a mask-wearing mandate for public schools statewide through at least the end of September.

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 9-1 on Tuesday morning to give Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley the authority to issue a universal mask-wearing mandate to start the academic year. Riley is expected to issue the mandate later this week.

Here’s what we know:

The proposal

Riley released a proposal on Friday that would require all public school students, teachers, and other staff members to wear masks indoors through Oct. 1.

This requirement would apply to everyone — vaccinated or not.


What happens after Oct. 1?

After Oct. 1, middle and high schools (where most students are currently eligible for vaccines) would be allowed to lift the mandate for vaccinated people only if the school reaches an 80 percent vaccination rate among students and staff.

Even in those schools, unvaccinated students and staff still would be required to wear masks.

The commissioner plans to revisit the policy in the “near future,” to revise it as needed, according to the state. As of now, there are no concrete plans to remove the mask mandate for elementary schools, where students are too young to be eligible for vaccines.

Are there any exceptions?

Children under 5 would not be required to mask up.

Students with certain medical conditions or behavioral needs also would not be required.

What’s the purpose of the mask mandate?

The purpose is twofold: to encourage more students and staff members to get vaccinated, and to create a uniform masking policy for the start of the year.

“While Massachusetts leads the nation in vaccination rates, we are seeing a recent rise in COVID-19 cases because we still need more people to get vaccinated,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said last week. “This step will increase vaccinations among our students and school staff and ensure that we have a safe school reopening.”


Wait — I thought Baker was against a statewide mask mandate.

It certainly did seem that way.

Prior to this masking proposal, Baker’s administration had been taking a localized approach that strongly recommended masks for unvaccinated students and staff but ultimately left the decision up to individual districts.

Just days before the news of the proposed school mask mandate, Baker said on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio”: “I think local officials need authority and the ability to make decisions on stuff like this.”

Asked last week why he so quickly changed his position, Baker said he had always been willing to change his administration’s stance if the data changed.

When did the board vote on this, and how can I watch?

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met online at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. You can watch a recording of the meeting here.