The following statement was issued today by Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy:
The sharp spike in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant is extremely concerning. It demands that the state take a more systematic, inclusive and comprehensive approach to protecting public health. The last-minute scramble by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide 200,000 test kits to educators is anything but that, jeopardizing our attempts to maintain safe in-person learning as schools reopen after the holiday break.
This decision, made without consultation with educators’ unions and local stakeholders, is one more example of the failure of the Baker administration to get it right. Plans for testing of this magnitude should have been communicated well in advance of schools closing for the winter break.
Instead, Governor Charlie Baker and state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley have created a logistical nightmare all the way from distribution to testing oversight, placing the burden on school staff — particularly school nurses, who are already stretched beyond their capacity.
The commissioner’s incompetence leaves school districts no time to develop a contingency plan if there is a local outbreak. This may be particularly problematic in cities that serve many students of color — communities that continue to be the hardest hit by the pandemic.
If testing is going to be successful, the Baker administration must immediately create a much broader distribution mechanism and provide the proper staffing to ensure that the tests are being used. There also needs to be a comprehensive plan — meaning consideration must be given to staffing and distribution — around ongoing access to testing for students, school staff and others who routinely have reason to be in public schools and thus pose a transmission risk.
In this moment, there may be further instances when in-person learning is temporarily deemed too risky, and it is time for the department to show flexibility and leadership in this area.
We are tired of Band-Aid approaches from Baker and Riley when it comes to facing the biggest public health threat of our time.
We believe that, as always, key decisions will be most effective when made in concert with educators, locally elected officials and other community members. Proactive planning for the difficult months ahead is imperative — and there is no time to waste in meeting the needs of students, educators and our communities.