BOSTON — Students and staff at Massachusetts public schools are now required to wear masks indoors, under a policy Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley officially put forward Wednesday.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education authorized Riley to issue a mask mandate by a 9-1 vote Tuesday.
As discussed at that meeting, the mask requirement Riley implemented will remain in place until at least Oct. 1. After Oct. 1, middle and high schools can lift their mask mandates if they can demonstrate 80 percent of students and staff are vaccinated against COVID-19.
“DESE will provide additional information to districts in the coming weeks in preparation for the October 1 date, including how to demonstrate the 80% vaccination rate threshold,” the policy says.
Most Berkshire school districts already had instituted a mandatory masking policy, with the exception of McCann Technical School in North Adams.
The commissioner’s policy applies to students age 5 and up and “strongly” recommends that younger students younger also wear masks. It exempts both students who cannot wear a mask for behavioral or medical reasons and staff who cannot wear masks for medical reasons.
“Mask breaks” are allowed throughout the day, and the policy says those breaks “should occur when the windows are open or students are outdoors,” if feasible.
Masks are required for “any sports-related activity” indoors, but can be removed “when necessary to participate in elective classes, such as the use of woodwind instruments in band.”
The state guidance says it is a “local decision” whether and when to discipline a student for not wearing a mask, and that districts should consult their legal counsel and “provide written notice to students and families about expectations and potential consequences.”
“Districts are encouraged to consider and implement alternatives before resorting to disciplinary exclusion,” it says. “Keeping students connected with school is especially important this fall, as students return to school after a challenging school year.”