Massachusetts lawmaker proposes universal mask mandate in all schools

Coronavirus

BOSTON (WPRI) — While federal health officials have issued a recommendation for universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status, not all school districts are taking the advice.

In Texas, some Dallas students returned to the classroom this week amid the Delta variant causing a new surge of COVID-19 cases across the country. 

Texas students won’t be able to take online classes this fall, and Gov. Greg Abbott has prohibited schools from requiring masks.

In Massachusetts, one state lawmaker wants to propose the opposite for K-12 schools. Sen. Becca Rausch, who represents parts of Bristol County, is proposing a bill that would require a universal mask mandate for staff and students in K-12 schools. 

The proposal comes just a week after the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released new guidelines for the fall. 

DESE said it is strongly recommending, but not requiring, K-6 students to wear masks while in school.  

“With less than a month before our children head back to school, this administration chooses to play Russian roulette with the health of Massachusetts students and families,” Rausch said in a statement. “I have heard from many parents, school committee members, teachers, and public health experts who are rightly worried, angry, and frustrated in the wake of DESE’s weak, unenforceable, and non-binding mask recommendations.”

Some parents think an outright mandate may be too much.

“I think that a lot of places will instinctively look towards using masks if and when possible without necessarily needing a state mandate,” Daniel Peaceman told WBZ. 

“I think it’s overkill,” Raghu Muppavarapu added. “There’s nothing wrong with it per se but having a mandate essentially forces people and the districts where everything is under control, people are vaccinated and things don’t seem to be out of control in regards to the virus to wear masks.”

Rausch’s bill also aims to expand youth access to COVID-19 vaccines. 

The bill would provide excused absences from school for COVID-19 vaccination appointments, as well as up to six hours of paid leave for any parent or caregiver bringing their child to the appointment.

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