BOSTON -- Parents who pushed for Massachusetts classrooms to fully reopen are now calling on the state to lift outdoor mask mandates for schools, camps and youth sports, as well as other COVID-19 restrictions on children.

In a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker and other state officials, members of the group Bring Kids Back MA asks for revision of "policies and guidance that unnecessarily restrict the children of the commonwealth."

The group cites improving public health metrics and scientific evidence that the restrictions are no longer necessary.

"There is simply no compelling scientific rationale supporting the additional restrictions on the youngest citizens of our state, over and above what is being asked of adults and beyond what many other states are requiring of young children," the group wrote in the May 6 letter.

The parents specifically want the state to lift outdoor mask mandates for schools, youth sports, interscholastic athletics and summer camps, even if 6 feet of social distancing is not possible.

The parents point to guidance from the World Health Organization that the risk of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is low, and they note that New Hampshire and other neighboring states have taken similar steps.

The group also calls on the state to intervene in situations where local schools’ restrictions go above and beyond the state's guidelines "in ways that hinder children’s fully engaged access to public education."

On Thursday, Baker said he hadn't yet seen the letter, but he pointed out that the administration has already eased some restrictions on school-age children, such as reducing the required desk spacing in classrooms from 6 to 3 feet.

"We have made adjustments, up and down, depending on what we're hearing from people who are dealing with it on the ground," Baker said during a briefing. "We'll look at the letter and the information provided, and if we think we need to make a change, we will."

Beth Humberd, an Andover parent and member of the group, said she supported precautions taken at the height of the pandemic but has grown frustrated that the restrictions haven't been relaxed as the state reopens.

"We're alarmed that with every improvement that happens in the state, our children are treated like a second class, separate from adults," she said.

Humberd, an associate professor of business management at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, said there's a lack of guidance over pending changes and inconsistencies among rules for schools, youth sports clubs and other organizations that often conflict with the latest scientific data.

"If we know outdoor transmission is low, and if we've rolled it back for adults, why does it have to be a separate discussion for children?" she said.

Last week Baker lifted a statewide outdoor mask mandate -- for children and adults -- and other COVID-19 restrictions as he announced the beginning of the final phases of the state’s reopening plans. Baker has also ordered public school districts to reopen for in-person instruction five days a week.

Though he has not outlined when specific regulations will be eased, that could come next week when the administration is expected to announce updated guidance for schools and businesses on the state's plans to fully reopen by August.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. 

 

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