Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper sent a letter to the BPS community asking staff and students to wear masks to limit spreading COVID, RSV, and other illnesses, for the first eight days of school in January.
"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," wrote Skipper.
She emphasized that no one will be disciplined or sent home if they refuse to wear a mask.
Skipper said the hope is to "maximize our ability to keep students healthy and minimize staff absences during this high-risk period," and that it's a temporary ask for students from Jan. 4 to Jan. 13.
BPS will provide disposable face masks to students or staff who need them, said Skipper. She added that masks will be made available for student athletes at practices and games, but not expected.
"During this same time last school year, BPS experienced our largest COVID-19 surge, which resulted in significant staffing shortages that made it nearly impossible to keep all schools open–a daily average of 1,200 staff members and 8,500 students absent throughout January 2022," wrote Skipper.
Skipper said that COVID-19 has been less disruptive this year, but that the combination of flu and other respiratory illnesses have resulted in significant staff and student absences. She said 60% of all flu cases in Boston have been from 17-year-olds and younger, and that these illnesses disparately impact Black and Brown families.
"Our goal with temporary masking is to prevent an even bigger surge that would result in overwhelming student and staff absences this January," wrote Skipper.
Students and staff have been provided antigen test kits to students and staff, in addition to the regularly offered COVID test kits. Students are being asked to test the evening of Jan. 3 or the morning of Jan. 4 (students go back to school on this date). Staff are being asked to test the day before returning back to work on Jan. 3.
Skipper said students should stay home if they positive or feel sick, and that schools should be notified to report positive COVID test results and absences.
"We appreciate your ongoing support, as our families have done an excellent job keeping students home when ill or COVID-19-positive to protect the rest of the school community," wrote Skipper.