Berkshire County school districts adopt to mask mandate prior Massachusetts Education Commissioner announcement

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BERKSHIRE COUNTY, MASS. (NEWS10) – Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffery Riley is pushing for a mask mandate.

The Lenox Board of Education voted to adopt a mask mandate on Monday. Superintendent Marc Gosselin Jr. says the district was waiting for the state to release guidance, but that didn’t happen until Friday. Massachusetts Ed. Commissioner Jeffery Riley asked his board to grant him permission to mandate masks in all K-12 state public schools until October 1st. Riley says over a virtual meeting that this mandate will allow students and teachers more time to get vaccinated.

“While Massachusetts leads the nation in vaccination rates, we are seeing a recent rise in COVID-19 cases because we still need more people to get vaccinated. This step will increase vaccinations among our students and school staff and ensure that we have a safe school reopening.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker

According to a press release from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the commissioner’s policy would allow middle and high schools to lift the mask mandate for vaccinated students and staff only if the school meets a certain vaccination rate – at least 80 percent of students and staff in a school building are vaccinated. Unvaccinated students and staff would still be required to wear masks.

The commissioner’s policy will not go into effect until the the State Board of Education adopts it. Commissioner Riley asked the board to meet on Tuesday, August 24, to vote to give him this authority to institute the mask mandate. Superintendent Gosselin says Lenox Schools has already been preparing. “We’ll be prepared either way, if we have to pivot and go in a different direction we’ll do that but we wanted to make sure that we were ready,” says Lenox Superintendent Marc Gosselin Jr.

In less than two weeks, many Berkshire County students will be heading back to school and wearing masks inside the classrooms. “[For] indoors, masks will be required will be required for all staff, students, visitors, and any vendors that visit us,” says Gosselin.

Brodi McCormack is excited to start fifth grade at Morris Elementary School in Lenox. He says the masks can be a little itchy, but he doesn’t mind wearing one and understands why it’s enforced. “Because of COVID and if you’re not vaccinated and still if you are, you have a chance of getting COVID too,” says Brodi.

Lenox is one of many school districts in Berkshire County that already implemented an indoor mask policy, Pittsfield and North Adams schools also following suit. “Specifically coming from an elementary school context, the children are all to young to be vaccinated at this point. I think masking is the safest option for them. I feel as the adults in the room— if we’re asking them to keep masks on their faces we have to model that behavior as well,” says Sarah Smith, Elementary Art Teacher at Pittsfield Public Schools.

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