“We shouldn’t be debating whether to keep our students safe or not.”

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona spoke to community members in Roxbury last week. Erin Clark / Globe Staff

Whether students should be wearing masks when they return to school this fall isn’t something that should be up for debate, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told an audience in Roxbury Friday.

“We shouldn’t be debating whether to keep our students safe or not,” Cardona said when asked a question about mask mandates. 

The YMCA of Greater Boston and the Boys & Girls Club of Boston hosted Cardona and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, formerly of Mass. General Hospital, at a town hall in Roxbury Friday afternoon. 


The two officials spoke at the Q&A event about the safe reopening of schools in the fall in the wake of the surging delta variant of COVID-19, and answered questions from students and parents present at the event. 

Cardona began the discussion by outlining the U.S. Department of Education’s “Return to School” roadmap, which targets three principles: prioritizing the health and safety of students and staff at schools; providing mental health support for students; and supporting the academic success of students. 

The CDC and Department of Education have been working side-by-side to ensure the safe and secure reopening of schools in the fall, Walensky said. Both Cardona and Walensky mentioned that they are parents and have personally felt the hardship of having schools be closed during the pandemic. 


“My job is to give you the information you need to see the perspective you need to say, ‘Woah, I want to be vaccinated,’” Walensky said.

As of Aug. 6, 33% of 12- to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated, according to Walensky, which is lacking in numbers compared to the rest of the vaccinated population. During the panel, both experts emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated for those who are 12-years-old or older. 

One member of the audience asked what the most important message was that they could share with families, to which both spoke about the importance of communication and keeping the school accountable for their safety measures. 


“Make sure as parents that you ensure that the schools are following the mitigation strategies,” Cardona said.

According to Cardona, although safety measures at school keep students safe from contracting COVID-19, if the communities are not as equally enforcing mitigation strategies, students end up bringing in COVID from outside schools into classrooms. He emphasized the importance of community organizations, such as the YMCA, in also implementing mitigation strategies that would keep the virus from spreading. 

Students will return to schools in-person this fall in Boston. Boston Public Schools recently announced that they would plan to require a mask for all students and staff indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. With the delta variant on the rise, many schools are changing plans to do away with their masking requirements, instead planning to require masks indoors. 


Watch the full town hall, moderated by Latoyia Edwards of NBC10 Boston, below.