On August 20, Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley issued a press statement informing the public that he will ask the Board of Education for authority to impose a mask mandate on all Massachusetts school children.
However, neither the commissioner nor the board has legal authority to implement public health policies.
The Board’s authority is found in G.L. c. 69, § 1B. It states,
The board shall establish policies relative to the education of students in public early childhood, elementary, secondary and vocational-technical schools.” (Emphasis added.)
The Board’s duties, according to the statute, are confined to such matters as establishing certification standards for teachers, reviewing federal grant applications, and auditing the academic performance of schools. There is no power granted anywhere in the statute allowing the Board to create policies to slow the spread of a contagious disease or to increase vaccination numbers. The legislature has already established regulations for such matters. See G.L. 71, § 55 and G.L. c. 76, § 15, respectively. Commissioner Riley and the education board do not have the authority to go beyond the scope of these laws.
G.L. c. 69, § 1B does state that “The board shall establish standards to ensure that every student shall attend classes in a safe environment.”
However, anyone who reads the sentence in its full paragraph can see that it applies to only the structural environment of the school buildings.
The full paragraph is as follows:
The board shall establish minimum standards for all public early childhood, elementary, secondary and vocational-technical school buildings, subject to the provisions of the state building code. The board shall establish standards to ensure that every student shall attend classes in a safe environment. (Emphasis added.)
Nevertheless, Riley’s press release expressly states that
The purpose of the [mask] policy is to encourage higher vaccination rates among students.
To further this point, he quotes Lt. Governor Karyn Polito:
Our goal remains to get as many people as possible vaccinated. We hope that by instituting vaccine benchmarks among school populations we will create a real incentive for students and staff to get vaccinated so they can remove their masks.
This statement implicitly acknowledges that masks are a chronic burden to students. Since the state of emergency ended in Massachusetts, the executive branch no longer has the authority to impose such a burden on anyone.
Parents across the state need to speak out and challenge these measures now before they are implemented. If they are put into force, they need to be immediately disputed in court.