PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state-run Providence public school district will drop its mask mandate on April 11, making face coverings optional for students and teachers.

“We are pleased to be at a point where the data shows it is safe for Providence Public Schools to move to a mask optional policy,” Superintendent Dr. Javier Montañez said in a statement Wednesday announcing the change. “However, I want to stress that we may return to masking if there’s a spike in cases. We will be tracking the data closely.”

“I also want to stress that masks are just one layer of our COVID strategy,” he added. “We will continue to provide free vaccination clinics, free testing, and increased ventilation and sanitation in all schools.”

Most Rhode Island school districts dropped their mandates in March, when Gov. Dan McKee lifted the statewide mandate and allowed districts to decide whether to make masks optional or mandatory.

But Providence, which is controlled by the state, kept the mandate in place. R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green at the time cited Providence’s low vaccination rate — only 34% of students — as part of the decision. She noted that other districts such as Barrington had high vaccination rates in the 80% range.

A total of 44% of Providence students are now at least partially vaccinated, according to the latest data from the R.I. Department of Health. The district has held numerous vaccine clinics in schools in an effort to bring up the number.

Statewide, 55% of K-12 students are at least partially vaccinated, according to the data.

With COVID cases declining, Providence school officials sent out a survey to families last month to see if they would prefer to keep the mask mandate in place, or make it virtual.

Of the 3,000 people who responded, 69% said they wanted to make masks optional, according to results provided by the district.

The district on Wednesday also announced updated COVID guidance that includes a shift “away from contact tracing,” according to a news release.

Elementary schools will now notify families if there is a COVID exposure in the classroom, in which case unvaccinated students will be asked to wear masks for ten days.

In the middle and high schools, students will be notified of a potential exposure, and unvaccinated students will be advised to wear masks.

Those who have symptoms will have to stay home for five days and then wear a well-fitting mask for five days upon returning to the classroom.

“There will be no tolerance for any negative comments regarding a person’s choice for masking,” the district said.

Steph Machado ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.