MTA President Merrie Najimy issued the following statement today in response to the Baker administration’s fall school guidance:
We all want our students in school, as we have said consistently. The vast majority of students learn better when they are taught in person. Educators’ unions and our allies have advocated for and won significant public health measures that make in-person learning as safe as possible.
With that said, the Baker administration must recognize that the pandemic is not over and that there are many variables to keep an eye on throughout the summer and into the fall. Therefore, it is premature to jump to decisions to drop all of the mitigation strategies that have proven to be effective. We believe that more safeguards must be built into the Baker administration’s school guidance and vaccination practices to ensure that in-person learning in the fall is as safe as it can be for every student.
Many of our key concerns center on communities of color, which have been hit the hardest by COVID-19 and will need the most state investment to recover. The administration must listen to parents who have deep worries about sending their children back to school unless protections are in place.
We support the following recommendations for the fall:
- Improve vaccination rates in hard-hit communities. Low-income communities and communities of color continue to have below-average vaccination rates, even among students who are 12 to 19 years old. The state must redouble its efforts to provide the information and access needed to vaccinate eligible students and families in these communities.
- Keep young children and their families safe through masking and distancing. Children under the age of 12 are still not eligible to be vaccinated. As a result, they can still get sick and transmit the virus to their families and communities. Transmission rates have been relatively low with masking and three feet of distancing in place. Until elementary school children are eligible for the vaccine, there should be no rapid move to eliminate these practices.
- Require adequate ventilation. The pandemic has exposed the reality that too many school buildings have poor ventilation systems that have resulted in unhealthy air quality — even before COVID-19. Some districts have already made improvements in school ventilation systems, but the state has not released data on where problems remain. The state and school districts now have billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds. They must allocate the money needed to ensure healthy indoor air in all schools.
- Continue COVID-19 testing. Testing continues to be the most effective way to determine when mitigation strategies are needed. The state must continue to make rapid testing available to school districts for as long as COVID-19 continues to pose a health risk.
With these measures in place, we believe that educators and students can teach and learn in our school buildings safely in the fall — unless variants lead to a surge in cases. The state must be willing to make changes as needed so that we can continue to save lives and make progress against this deadly virus. It is time for the Baker administration to respect local decision-making; communities know best what local residents need.