COVID

Gov. Baker defends school mask policies, says ‘hard to imagine’ return to remote learning

"Things change primarily because the circumstances and the facts on the ground change."

In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 file photo, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker delivers his state of the state address in the House Chamber at the Statehouse in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Governor Charlie Baker is defending his quick policy change on a statewide school mask mandate, and suggesting a return to remote learning is highly unlikely.

In a Sunday interview, WBZ’s Jon Keller asked Baker about his two-day policy change on masking in schools: from saying local governments should craft policies on Aug. 18 to his education commissioner recommending a statewide mask mandate for schools on Aug. 20.

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“Things change primarily because the circumstances and the facts on the ground change,” Baker said. “We heard a lot from our colleagues in local government who felt that it was very important for them — and therefore for us and the constituents we both serve — that we start the school year with a consistent standard across the board.”

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The state’s new policy implements a broad mask mandate through Oct. 3, after which schools with an 80% vaccination rate can allow vaccinated individuals not to wear masks. Since children under 12-years-old aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine, they will still be required to wear masks. For each scenario, standard exceptions apply, such as certain medical diagnoses. 

“It’s our hope and our expectation…that we’ll be able to use many of the vaccine clinics we’ve established with local school districts to give schools the ability to get to the 80%…vaccinated so they’ll be able to make their own decision moving forward,” Baker said.

Baker appeared to be decisively against any return to remote learning.

“I think everybody would agree that last year for kids here in the Commonwealth…was a big disappointment on every level when it came to the education, socializing, development, the works,” he said. “I think in many ways there are plenty of resources and tons of guidance and experience at this point, and again good data, available for people that shows that if schools follow the rules and the policies that have been used not just here by many schools over the last 18 months, but in other countries and other places, you can have schools operate safely, even if you’re in a situation where you have a significant increase in cases.”

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Baker pointed to the still-increasing rates of vaccination even among rising cases of COVID. As of Aug. 27, 4,478,648 people had been vaccinated, and Baker believes the state will hit 5 million within a few weeks.

“It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where we won’t continue to expect kids to be in school,” Baker said. “They need to be in school.”

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