By Carol Britton Meyer
Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley recently extended the statewide public schools mask mandate through at least Jan. 15, 2022.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education authorized Riley last August to require that masks to be worn by all K-12 public school students ages five and older, educators, staff, and visitors until at least Oct. 1 to allow time to increase the vaccination rate in public school buildings. Recently, that date was extended to Nov. 1 or later, so this is the second extension.
Face masks are required indoors -- except when eating or drinking and during mask breaks -- with some exceptions. Masks must be worn on school busses.
This latest decision was made "after consulting with medical experts and state health officials," according to a press release issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Department will continue to work with medical experts and state health officials to evaluate the mask requirement beyond Jan. 15.
Currently, if public school building administrators are able to demonstrate a combined vaccination rate of 80 percent or more among students and staff in a public school through an attestation form submitted to DESE, then vaccinated individuals in that school would no longer be subject to the state mask requirement, which is a local decision.
In alignment with statewide guidance, unvaccinated students and staff would be required to continue wearing masks.
In addition, with the expected announcement of the vaccine becoming available for children ages 5-11 in the coming weeks, an extension of the mask requirement would allow time for the elementary school population to receive the vaccine, according to DESE.