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BPS asks students, staff to wear masks

Temporary policy would last eight days, is not a mandate

Isaiah Thompson
BPS asks students, staff to wear masks
The BPS headquarters in Nubian Square. BANNER PHOTO

Boston Public Schools announced Friday a temporary — and essentially voluntary — masking policy for BPS students and staff returning to schools next week.

In an email to families, BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper said that the new policy will take effect Wednesday, Jan. 4 and last for eight school days, through Friday, Jan. 13.

The announcement comes as the region sees rising cases of COVID-19, along with influenza and other respiratory illnesses. It comes also after a push by some families, as well as the Boston Teachers Union, for some form of temporary resumption of indoor masking after students and staff return to schools from the holiday break — in many cases, after mingling with extended family and friends.

In her email to parents, Skipper said the temporary masking measures will not be mandatory.

“This is our ask and expectation of students and staff, not a mandate — which will be in effect during the school day on school premises and school buses,” Skipper wrote. “BPS will provide disposable face masks to students or staff who need them. No one will be disciplined or sent home if they refuse to wear a mask. Masks will be available for student athletes at practices and games, but not expected.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement, “As students and staff return from holiday gatherings and travel, temporary masking is one tool to keep students and staff healthy, and to guard against the overwhelming absences that made in-person learning difficult to sustain at this time last year.”

At least one parent group, BPS Families for COVID Safety, is already pushing back on the decision to leave masking up to individual students and staff.

In a statement, the group — which also called for a minimum masking period of 10 days, not eight — said members are “very concerned by the Boston Public Schools’ announcement that masking in schools will only be an ‘expectation’ and not a requirement for the two weeks following the upcoming holiday break.”

“We are saddened that Mayor Wu and BPS are making an “ask” for masking rather than a requirement — this is an inequitable policy decision that leaves our children and the entire BPS community less protected in midst of the current surge when they return to school in January,” said group co-founder and BPS parent Suleika Soto in the statement.

The group will be holding a public meeting on the policy on January 6 and is meanwhile urging BPS families to view the temporary masking policy as a “responsibility” rather than as simply optional.

“This policy should be viewed as, ‘Everyone who possibly can, should mask.’ This is the best way to protect highly vulnerable kids and kids who can’t mask.” said FamCOSA co-founder Sarah Horsley.

While the measures fall somewhat short of suggestions for a 10-day masking period, the Boston Teachers Union is voicing cautious support of the BPS announcement.

“Upon our initial review, we feel the new communication is a sensible, data-driven policy that is responsive to both public health and also to specific populations for whom masking may be a hardship,” said BTU President Jessica in a statement released shortly after the announcement Friday.

“We will be continuing to evaluate and review the policy and its implementation as it proceeds,” Tang added.

Boston Public Schools was one of only two Massachusetts school districts, along with Chelsea, to continue mandatory masking policies after state officials left such decisions to individual districts last year. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that those policies led to lower incidents of COVID-19 infections than in surrounding school districts where masking was made optional.

BPS, COVID, masking