The Providence public schools will continue requiring students and staff to wear face coverings even after a statewide school mask requirement ends March 4, officials said Friday.
Gov. Dan McKee announced earlier this week that the statewide school mask mandate would end March 4, a week after students return from February vacation, but added that mask regulations would then be left up to individual school districts based on local coronavirus conditions.
Providence schools, with about 22,000 students, is the largest district in the state and remains under control of the Rhode Island Department of Education.
"Student and staff safety is the top priority. While the Governor’s executive order requiring masks in schools is set to sunset on March 4, PPSD and RIDE plan to require all staff members and students to wear masks beyond that point," a spokesperson for the district said.
Students will also return to school after vacation on a staggered basis, with students asked to take at-home tests the night before school or get tested at school with parental permission.
Grades Pre-K, K, 1, 6, 9 and 12 will return Feb. 28; grades 2, 3, 7 and 10 on March 1; and grades 4, 5, 8 and 11 on March 2.
The school district has also scheduled vaccination clinics on Feb. 22 and Feb. 27. The district-wide student vaccination rate is about 34%.
"Everyone is looking forward to a few days off during February vacation, but COVID-19 won’t be taking a break and that’s why we are giving our students, families, and staff many opportunities to get vaccinated, get tested, and to return to school safely the week of Feb. 28," Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said in a statement.
Also Friday, the state’s indoor mask or proof-of-vaccine mandate for businesses and other public spaces ended. Those facilities can now set their own masking and vaccination policies.