MALDEN — Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Jeffrey Riley announced that the statewide mask requirement for K-12 schools will be lifted on Monday, Feb. 28.
The decision was made in consultation with infectious-disease physicians, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and other medical experts. Vaccinations are the best protection against COVID-19, and Massachusetts has among the highest vaccination rates of young people and is a national leader in overall vaccination. In Massachusetts, 52% of all individuals who are fully vaccinated have received a booster dose, compared to 42% of the national population.
Massachusetts also has nation-leading school-testing programs, including a newly launched at-home testing program for students and educators. These testing options will remain in place.
“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,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “We have all the tools to keep schools safe as we move into dealing with the next phase of managing COVID.”
The Department of Early Education and Care will also lift the mask requirements currently in place for all licensed childcare providers effective Feb. 28, and allow programs to develop policies specific to the children they serve. The department will release additional guidance for programs next week.
With the lifting of the statewide mask requirement, school districts no longer need to request a waiver from DESE to remove masks in school buildings where 80% of staff and students are vaccinated. Masking will be a community choice in schools across the Commonwealth, regardless of vaccination rates within a school; however, a school district could establish a local requirement.
Many schools across the Commonwealth have already reached the vaccination benchmark and requested permission to remove masks. To date, DESE has received 68 requests from schools that submitted attestations that 80% of their students and staff are vaccinated. The department has approved 42 requests and is in the process of reviewing another 21 requests before the statewide requirement ends.
Masking continues to be required on all school buses, per federal order. In August, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education gave the commissioner the authority to require masks for public-school staff and students (ages 5 and up) in all grades through at least Oct. 1, 2021. The commissioner used his authority to extend the requirement three times.