Boston schools move for ‘temporary masking’ — but not mandate

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Boston Public Schools is not reimplementing a mask mandate, but is asking people to cover up.

The district framed this as moving to “adopt temporary masking” from this coming week through the following Friday, a total of eight school days following the holidays as the already-rising COVID-19 numbers are expected to continue to go up following the holiday break.

But this, which will go into effect for students Jan. 4 through Jan. 13, is different from the longstanding mid-pandemic policy where the district required masks.

“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,” Superintendent Mary Skipper wrote in a letter posted on the BPS website Friday. “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.”

The district and Mayor Michelle Wu had suggested some new masking protocol was coming at the end of this week as winter break drew to a close. They floated the idea of a return to a mask mandate, though ultimately decided against a hard one.

“Boston Public Schools will continue to provide all students and staff with iHealth Antigen Test Kits bi-weekly, containing two tests each, to allow for testing during and immediately after the winter break,” Skipper wrote. “These testing kits will be available in all BPS schools and BPS administrative office buildings for any students and staff who may need a test.”

The largest COVID spike of the pandemic — and really the last major one up to this point — in terms of cases came last January. The mayor and her administration then implemented a raft of rules around vaccinations and masks that drew protests and lawsuits.

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