Massachusetts education commissioner clarifies summer school mask policy

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BOSTON (SHNS) – State education officials will recommend, but not require, that students and staff wear masks and follow other COVID-era safety protocols during summer school programs, Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley clarified over the weekend.

Some educators and district leaders were unsure whether the state mandated or simply encouraged indoor masking during summer programs amid confusion over how to interpret the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s guidance. In a Saturday evening email to superintendents, Riley wrote that “there is some misunderstanding” that he hoped to resolve.

Students as well as adults who are not fully vaccinated are still required to cover their faces indoors through the end of the 2020-2021 school year. During summer school programs, “masking indoors and maintaining other health and safety guidance is not required, but is encouraged,” Riley wrote on Saturday, underlining the final five words. “The DESE summer guidance is in alignment with state guidance encouraging unvaccinated individuals to continue to mask,” Riley wrote. “The (Department of Public Health) mask advisory advises unvaccinated residents to continue wearing masks in indoor settings and when they can’t socially distance.”

All health and safety recommendations, including mask requirements and social distancing, will lift for the 2021-2022 school year starting in the fall. Gov. Charlie Baker said on Friday that when students return in the fall, “School should look a lot more like it did before the pandemic.” DESE published guidance on May 27 telling districts that it “will not issue separate guidance for summer school programs” and that it encourages schools to continue following health and safety guidelines in place for the spring.

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