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Massachusetts School Mask Mandate Given OK By Board Of Education

BOSTON (CBS) – The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held a special meeting Tuesday morning and voted to grant state education commissioner Jeffrey Riley the authority to put a universal school mask mandate in place.

A DESE spokesperson said the mask rule will go into effect once Riley formally issues a mandate, which is expected on Wednesday.

Riley sought the power to implement a statewide mask rule through the first several weeks of school.

He previously said a mandate would be for all K-12 public schools as well as all teachers and staff. The mandate would be for indoors only and for children five and older.

It would last through October 1 and at that point, unvaccinated students and staff could remove their masks as long as the entire school building has a vaccination rate of 80%.

The mandate would have exceptions for students who can't wear a mask for medical reasons or behavioral needs.

Last month DESE put out guidance strongly recommending mask wearing for unvaccinated students but stopped short of a mandate, leaving it up to individual districts to make their own COVID-19 rules.

Dr. Kristin Moffitt, an infectious disease Physician at Boston Children's Hospital, says last year's school experience suggests that masks are effective for preventing transmission of the virus.

"Masking was one of several layers of measures that were used in school settings to prevent transmission from occurring in schools," Moffitt said. "And as one of those layered measures, along with ventilation and people staying home when they were sick and some additional hand hygiene, we found that transmission within the school setting was really very minimal."

Moffitt called the proposed mask mandate a good idea.

"These measures really are there with the number one priority being keeping people safe and healthy but also with the very important priority of keeping kids in the classrooms to learn," She said.

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A protester outside a meeting in Malden about a school mask mandate. (WBZ-TV)

Riley said having a universal mandate in place will provide an incentive for more people to get vaccinated and ensure a smooth and safe reopening.

Massachusetts Teachers Association president Merrie Najimy issued a statement following the vote.

"Today's vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to require all public school staff and students older than 5 to wear masks while in school is a significant advancement toward keeping our communities safe as we prepare for a return to full in-person learning," Najimy said.

Several groups of parents gathered outside the meeting in Malden in protest.

"I think it really comes down to parent choice," said Michelle Aitken. "I'm not against kids wearing a mask, but I'm against being mandated for all parents."

Parent Monica Vile was among those at the rally. She said a mask mandate is a "slippery slope."

"I think that it is important for to people have freedom to choose. We live in the United States and what the country was founded on is basic principles of freedom," Vile said. "I don't want to impinge on anyone's rights to wear masks. If that's what makes you feel safe and comfortable, please do that. But I also don't want my rights impinged on to be forced to wear a mask or be forced to vaccinate if I feel like that medical treatment does not resonate with me. I want to keep my freedom to choose established."

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