Philly schools will drop mask mandate on Wednesday

Masks will now be optional for students and staff, except those in pre-K Head Start programs.

Students wear face masks outside of their school in Philly

File photo: Philadelphia School District students at Samuel Powel Elementary School and Science Leadership Academy Middle School on Aug. 31, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The School District of Philadelphia is lifting its mask mandate on Wednesday, March 9.

Superintendent William Hite confirmed the change in a message to school staff and families on Tuesday.

“Our number one priority remains safely keeping our students in school, full time and in person where we know they learn best and we recognize that this includes a responsibility to move our School District community closer to a sense of normalcy, as COVID-19 conditions allow,” he wrote.

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Masks will now be optional for all district students and staff, except those in pre-K Head Start programs, which follow federal guidelines.

The city’s health department dropped its mask mandate for most indoor spaces last Wednesday, but decided to wait a week before lifting the requirement in schools.

“We think this is safe, but we will have a couple of incubation periods — because omicron is so quick — to see if that’s true,” Philadelphia’s Health Commissioner, Cheryl Bettigole, told Radio Times on WHYY, soon after the announcement. “If cases soar then no, we won’t do it. But if cases stay about where they are now we would go ahead and roll back the [school] mask mandate.”

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Students and staff will be required to wear masks for the week after spring break as an extra precaution, Hite said.

Several other large school districts have started to roll back their mask requirements. New York City lifted its school mask mandate on Monday, and Chicago Public Schools plans to go mask optional on March 14.

But not all school districts are dropping masks. New Jersey’s statewide school mask mandate expired this week, but Camden, Newark, and Trenton school districts are continuing to require masks, citing low vaccination rates in their communities.

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