Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has found himself on the wrong side of the debate over a universal mask mandate for students and staff at public schools and colleges in the Bay State. Baker has fended off criticism from all sides as he insists that decisions regarding masks are best left to local school officials.

Legislative leaders and several influential health professionals have called on Baker to issue a mask mandate for schools as students prepare to head back to the classroom just days from now. The state's largest teachers union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, has gone so far as to insist Baker require that all staff and eligible students get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to school.

Some area school board members have expressed frustration with Baker's reluctance to order universal masking in public schools. It would make their deliberations that much easier. Sate health officials have strongly recommended that masks be worn.

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State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley will ask the Department of Elementary and Secondary Educatin (DESE) on Tuesday to grant him authority to implement a mask mandate for all public school students and staff. As a result, the Old Rochester Regional Joint School Committee has postponed Monday night's scheduled meeting and will meet on Thursday instead to consider whatever action DESE might take on the mask issue into consideration before setting its policy.

A recent MassINC poll shows strong support for universal masking in Massachusetts schools. Baker, who may be holding a finger to the wind as he considers his re-election prospects, may be afraid to commit on this issue. Even though I agree with him that decisions about mask requirements should be made at the local level, Baker appears to be out of step with the overwhelming majority on this one.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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