By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — The face mask mandate for Massachusetts K-12 public schools has been extended again. Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley announced Tuesday, days before the mandate was set to expire on Nov. 1, that the requirement will now remain in place through at least Jan. 15, 2022.

Riley said in a statement the decision was made “after consulting with medical experts and state health officials.” Originally, the mandate was to end at the beginning of October.

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“Masks remain a simple and effective measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep students in school safely,” Riley said. “Together with the Test and Stay program, high vaccination rates, low transmission rates in schools and all the hard work in keeping our students safe, our kids are able to stay in school where they belong and can flourish.”

The decision comes as an FDA panel prepares to vote on recommending Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for children.

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“Massachusetts is a national leader in vaccination rates for adults and eligible children, and in anticipation of the vaccine becoming available in the coming weeks for children ages 5 to 11 years old, this extension of the mask requirement will allow time for the elementary school population to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Education Secretary James Peyser said in a statement. “This will be another big step forward in our efforts to keep school safe for our kids.”

Schools can still have the option to lift the mask requirement if they can prove that at least 80% of students and faculty have been vaccinated. Hopkinton and Ashland are among the districts that have received permission from the state to lift the mask mandates for their high schools.

Click here for a town-by-town map of school-aged children vaccination data.

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In August, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education gave Riley the authority to put a universal school mask mandate in place. Staff