Massachusetts public health and education officials are not recommending mask mandates, broad-sweeping testing, contact tracing, or test-to-stay testing in schools this coming fall. Officials are urging school district to instead focus their COVID-19 mitigation strategies on vulnerable and symptomatic people this coming school year.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Public Health issued the latest guidance Monday for K-12 schools and districts across the state, citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"With COVID-19 vaccines now readily available, treatments accessible to those at higher risk for severe disease, and widespread availability of self-tests, DESE and DPH have continued to evolve our support for schools in collaboration with the medical community and in line with the most recent CDC guidance issued August 11, 2022. This upcoming school year, districts and schools should focus their COVID mitigation strategies towards vulnerable and symptomatic individuals," DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley and DPH Commissioner Margaret Cooke said in a joint statement.
There is no longer a statewide mask mandate or testing requirement for schools, which ended in the spring.
Here's a quick breakdown of some of DESE's recommendations for the coming school year:
Throughout this August and September, DPH is offering free family-friendly vaccine clinics to prepare teachers, staff, students, and family members for going back to school. No ID, health insurance, or appointment is needed at these clinics, and fliers to promote them to families are available in multiple languages and can be found here. Information about these vaccination clinics and others across the state is available online at VaxFinder.
Isolation and exposure precautions
Effective Aug. 15, all students and staff in childcare, school in grades K-12, or participating in out-of-school time and recreational camp settings should follow the updated isolation and exposure guidance issued by DPH, in alignment with recently issued guidance from CDC. No asymptomatic person should be excluded from school as a result of exposure, regardless of vaccination status or exposure setting. Contact tracing is no longer recommended statewide in K-12 schools.
There is no statewide requirement for masking in schools, apart from in school health offices, and the Commonwealth is not recommending universal mask requirements. As always, any individual who wishes to continue to mask, including those who face higher risk from COVID19, should be supported in that choice. Schools and districts may purchase masks through the statewide contract.
With the conclusion of the statewide K-12 COVID-19 testing program, staffing, supplies, software, and all other services previously provided via CIC Health are no longer available through the state. In line with recent CDC guidance, screening testing and test to stay are not recommended. As communicated in an updated testing memo released on May 25, DESE and DPH strongly recommend that schools and districts interested in implementing their own testing program during the 2022-23 school year limit that program to symptomatic rapid testing. Districts and schools choosing to implement in school testing must secure whatever staffing and test supplies are necessary to implement their program. Additionally, districts are encouraged to purchase a supply of self-tests for students and staff to prepare for possible outbreaks.
Structured learning time
The 180-day school year requirement remains in effect. Any school closures due to COVID-19 emergencies will be treated like snow day closures, with additional days added to the school year if needed to meet the 180-school day requirement. Schools can reduce student absences by allowing individual students to livestream their classes from home during the period of isolation, if feasible.
Districts are encouraged to continue to:
- Assess their ventilation systems and ensure they are operating properly
- Conduct routine maintenance, like replacing filters and repairing duct work
- Consider adding air purifiers
- Increase outdoor air flow by opening windows in classrooms as feasible
- Open windows on school buses as feasible
You can read the full memo on the COVID recommendations for the 2022-23 school year below: