The following statement was issued today by Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy:
The guidance issued today by Governor Charlie Baker’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is no guidance at all. Rather than adopt a plan in line with the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, DESE is essentially signaling that students, educators and families should not take seriously the reality of the alarming rise in the number of cases of COVID-19.
This is a reckless decision.
But fortunately, there is time for DESE to correct its course. Educators' unions are already leading in this fight — and the MTA calls on school districts to immediately exercise their authority and require universal masking to protect the health and safety of students, educators, and their local communities.
Children too young to be vaccinated remain at unnecessary risk under DESE’s plan, as do communities where vaccination rates remain low. This especially applies to Massachusetts communities of color which, because of structural racism, have been harder hit and are experiencing worse outcomes from COVID-19. They need to be protected.
As our schools reopen, DESE needs to be preparing for challenging conditions. It will be far easier to pull back restrictions if circumstances merit that step than to ramp them up should the coronavirus risk remain a substantial danger to families.
The MTA strongly advocates for safe in-person learning. To ensure this can happen, we must employ the most stringent health and safety practices possible.
In addition to requiring masking, the state and local districts must address the ongoing need to repair ventilation systems and monitor and maintain air quality in school buildings. Promoting vaccines, providing access to testing, and ensuring hygiene must remain top priorities.
By failing to engage in meaningful dialogue with educators and other stakeholders, DESE is setting us up for another chaotic school year and increasing the likelihood that schools will again be forced to close. That needs to change — and it needs to change right now.