The following statement was issued today by MTA President Merrie Najimy on the governor’s failure to provide COVID-19 surveillance testing needed for in-person learning:
At his press conference today, Governor Charlie Baker advised once again, “Don’t spend a lot of time in indoor spaces with people you don’t live with.” He has failed to acknowledge that this is exactly what in-person learning in public schools requires. He is failing students, educators, families and communities by not providing our schools with the COVID-19 surveillance testing and other commonsense measures they need to safely provide in-person learning.
Public health professionals are increasingly alarmed by the governor’s inaction in the face of a 100 percent increase in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths over the last three weeks. Despite that very significant rise, Baker is not taking enough action. At the same time, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley is threatening school districts with “audits” if they do not increase in-person instruction despite the disturbing rise in cases.
Gov. Baker is failing students, educators, families and communities by not providing our schools with the COVID-19 surveillance testing and other commonsense measures they need to safely provide in-person learning.
Educators are desperate to teach their students in person, but they are growing increasingly frightened as cases rise among students and staff. Schools serving high numbers of students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and children with special education needs continue to be hit the hardest. Our students, their families, and Massachusetts educators need swift, systemic action by the state. That begins with the state supplying comprehensive surveillance testing in every school.
As students have returned after the Thanksgiving holiday, there is no surveillance testing program to determine whether anyone getting on the bus and walking through the school doors is a carrier, potentially an asymptomatic one. The new school coronavirus testing program rolled out by the state this week is wholly inadequate, as it only applies to about half of the districts and only tests symptomatic students and staff.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can follow models like those in many colleges and universities, including UMass, that have implemented regular surveillance testing, enabling safer in-person education. The public schools in Wellesley provide another example, having implemented weekly surveillance testing of all students and staff, paid for with private donations. This critical public health measure should not be financed privately only in communities where parents can afford to pay; instead, it should be funded by the state and provided to all districts.
There is no more time to waste. We call on Governor Baker to immediately take action to stop the spread and provide funds and other resources to all school districts so they can safely and responsibly set students, educators and communities on the path to resuming or increasing in-person learning.