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Massachusetts education leaders plan to make a decision by “early next week” to determine whether to extend the state’s universal mask-wearing mandate in public schools beyond Nov. 1, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said Tuesday.

In late September, the state extended the mandate, which requires all students and staff to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, but provided an optional off-ramp as of Oct. 15 for schools that hit an 80 percent vaccination rate among students and staff members. Unvaccinated individuals in those schools still would be required to wear masks.

As of Monday, Riley said, nine schools had requested to lift their mask mandate for vaccinated people: five high schools, one middle school, and three special education schools.


Seven schools have had their applications approved, according to the state: Hopkinton High School, Ashland High School, New England Academy School, the Corwin-Russell School @ Broccoli Hall, Cohasset High School, Westborough High School, and Sarah W. Gibbons Middle School in Westborough. It’s unclear, however, whether all of them will ultimately choose to lift their mask mandate before the state does.

“Whether or not a district or school avails itself of the 80 percent vaccination off-ramp is a local decision to be made by school and district leaders in consultation with health officials,” Riley said during the meeting of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Schools also may choose to take into consideration rates of COVID-19 transmission in the community and participation levels in various coronavirus testing programs offered at the school.

Though dozens of districts have met the state’s 80 percent vaccination threshold, many have opted not to seek state approval to lift their mask mandate. There’s a concern among some superintendents that lifting mask requirements could cause more COVID-19 transmission and ultimately lead to lost learning time, Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, told the Globe last week.


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.