The pressure on the Baker administration to require masks in classrooms this fall gained a strong voice Friday when Senate President Karen Spilka formally called on the governor to require universal masking in schools.
"Public health experts and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that universal masking in schools is an effective way to keep our vulnerable children and residents safe as we continue to fight this global pandemic. Parents, school staff and students seek clear, consistent direction as the school year starts, and they deserve to get it from the state," Spilka said in a statement. "No one wants to go back to the dark early days of this public health crisis, and so we must do everything possible to keep people safe and our economy stable. Wearing a mask around vulnerable populations, including unvaccinated children and others, is a small and simple action we can take to do this."
Students, families and educators are preparing for the third pandemic-influenced school year as case counts rise again thanks to the Delta variant's continued spread and with vaccines not yet available for children younger than 12.
To the dismay of teachers' unions and some parents, the Baker administration has left decisions around masking in schools to local officials. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued guidance "strongly" recommending indoor masking for all students in kindergarten through sixth grade and for all unvaccinated students, staff and visitors. State health and education officials have recommended that schools allow vaccinated students to remain unmasked.
"We fully expect cities and towns to make adjustments to do what's right for their specific school districts," Baker said last week, noting that vaccination and transmission rates differ from district to district.
Spilka had previously indicated that she was leaning towards support for a school mask mandate. On July 26, she said she thought kids should be masked if conditions continued to worsen — since then, the daily average of new cases has climbed 31 percent and the state's positive test rate is up from 1.84 percent to 2.61 percent.
"I believe if the numbers keep creeping up and the Delta variant is still as prominent or more prominent than it is now when the schools start [at the] end of August, beginning of September, I think we seriously need to think about having children who have not been vaccinated — whether they be under 12 [and] not able to be vaccinated yet or older but not vaccinated — to wear a mask," she said after a meeting with Baker and House Speaker Ronald Mariano.