Martha’s Vineyard public schools will continue to require universal masking indoors and on school transportation for all K-12 students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, but with an amendment allowing masks to be removed when outside.

The amendment was passed unanimously by the up-Island regional district, Tisbury and the regional high school at a meeting of the all-Island school committee Thursday. Oak Bluffs and Edgartown school committees did not have a quorum at the meeting Wednesday, but approved the mask amendment at a later meeting.

The broader question of masking inspired heated debate from community members during the meeting.

The mask policy will serve as a continuation of the Island school district’s policy from the 2020-2021 school year, which allows masks to be removed during mask breaks mandated by teachers and administrators, while eating and drinking, during physical education classes following health and safety guidelines and if a staff member is alone in a classroom with the door closed.

Certain individuals with medical, behavioral or other challenges that make wearing a face covering unsafe are exempt.

Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea opened the meeting with a presentation on the status of Covid on the Island and federal, state and local recommendations for masking in schools.

He cited the Delta variant, the Island’s rising infection numbers, the lack of vaccination approval for students under 12 and the potential for breakthrough cases as central reasons to continue universal indoor masking in the fall.

Mr. D’Andrea said maintaining masking and other Covid safety policies will help keep students in school and prevent a return to remote learning. He also said the school system will pursue no-cost Covid testing from the state DESE, like it did last year.

While school committee members generally voiced their approval of the amendment at the meeting, the larger masking question led to acrimonious back-and-forths from parents and community members.

Much of the comment centered not on the amendment to slightly loosen the current mask policy, but on the impacts of mask wearing among children and the authority of the school committee to make these decisions.

“Children have less than a one per cent chance of dying of Covid. One per cent. The effects of wearing a mask throughout most of the day are going to be far worse than getting Covid,” said Kimberly Burke.

Others supported the mask mandate, saying the policy will keep children and the rest of the Island safe.

“Both of my children are under 12 and cannot be vaccinated at this point, and I don’t believe that they would be safe without a mask policy right now on the Island,” said Melanie Brown.

Under state DESE guidelines, all school districts are required to conduct full-time in-person instruction.

The mask policy remains in place until rescinded by the school committee. Committee chairman Kate DeVane emphasized that as the pandemic evolves in upcoming months, the policy can be revisited and reevaluated.

At a different meeting on Aug. 18, the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown school committees voted unanimously in favor of the amendment, but Edgartown school committee member Louis Paciello expressed concern about masking generally and told fellow Edgartown representative Kelly McCracken that they could “address making some other arrangements” on the town level in the future.