MA urges state to delay full in-person learning until April 26 or later

MA urges state to delay full in-person learning until April 26 or later

The following statement was released today by MTA President Merrie Najimy on new CDC distancing guidance and the state’s plan to return students to school buildings full time:

The CDC has said for nearly a year that six feet of distancing helps reduce the spread of the coronavirus in schools. The new guidance says three feet is now good enough in most circumstances, even though it will lead to a sharp increase in the number of potentially infected people in our school buildings. For Massachusetts, this guidance comes at a time when new cases are relatively high and more contagious variants are spreading.

In light of these factors, enforcing or implementing other mitigation strategies is more important than ever. These include vaccinating school employees, ventilation that can control infection, masking and surveillance testing.

We urge the state to delay ordering full in-person learning until on or after April 26. This will give more staff a chance to be vaccinated and give school districts more time to cope with the logistical challenges of such a dramatic change so late in the year.

Delaying by just three weeks will also give parents time to decide whether sending their children into more crowded schools is a risk worth taking — a risk that multiple surveys show families of color are less willing to take on. Even prior to this guidance, a MassINC poll released on Tuesday shows that parents were ambivalent, with 40 percent saying that “schools should focus on improving remote learning for the remainder of the year” and 54 percent saying they should “focus on bringing more children back in person.”

Our members want to be with their students. We truly hope that three feet is safe enough, especially for our unvaccinated students and their families. But we can’t let down our guard.

We urge the CDC and Governor Charlie Baker to follow the science, not an artificial deadline. If cases start rising in our schools and communities, they must act quickly to protect the health and safety of everyone involved.

“I think we’re just in a race against time to vaccinate people. I definitely am concerned that we could see things start to tick up. … I really think we need to kind of sit tight for another few weeks. This is a time for being cautious. The end is in sight.”

Helen Jenkins, Boston University epidemiologist, as quoted in today’s Boston Globe on the high level of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts.