BOSTON (SHNS) – With education officials due to decide soon whether to keep the K-12 school mask mandate in place beyond next week, a state senator on Tuesday urged her colleagues to step in.
Needham Democrat Sen. Becca Rausch pitched the Education Committee on a bill to require indoor masking in schools and child care for everyone ages 2 and older through June 30. The current Department of Elementary and Secondary Education policy, in place through at least Jan. 15, requires masks indoors for ages 5 and up. Schools that demonstrate a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 80 percent or higher can stop requiring masks for vaccinated individuals.
Commissioner Jeff Riley projected an early January decision on whether to again extend the rule, saying he wanted to allow the medical community time to learn about the omicron variant. Rausch originally filed her bill (S 2516) over the summer, before DESE’s mandate. “Today we’re worse off than we were back in August,” she said. “Last week, Massachusetts surpassed a million COVID cases. Just yesterday DPH reported 31,000 new cases, 39 more deaths, and 2,200 COVID patients in hospitals. So it is that I must now ask, are we the lawmakers of this commonwealth going to leave all those people hanging as the governor continues to do?”
Rausch said lawmakers “must now act to safely keep kids in schools, protect families and help businesses stay open.” She said her bill would “fix an error” in the DESE policy by removing the 80 percent threshold. Rausch’s bill was the last item on the agenda for a busy virtual hearing. Senate Chair Jason Lewis said more than 200 people signed up to testify on various bills. Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl opposes the bill, saying in a statement: “Massachusetts school children have endured enough during the pandemic. It’s time to get our kids back to school and to ensure a normalized school experience once they get there.”