The Massachusetts Teachers Association called on state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley to keep schools closed — except for staff COVID-19 testing — on Monday, when most students would be returning after winter break.
“To protect the public health and the safety of our communities, it is urgent to allow districts to use Jan. 3 for administering COVID-19 tests to school staff and analyzing the resulting data,” MTA president Merrie Najimy said in a statement released Friday morning.
The call for closures comes after the state announced Thursday that 200,000 test kits meant for public school teachers and staff members across the state would be delayed.
The tests would have been administered this weekend before classes started again Monday.
“Without a strategic plan to make the tests available before this weekend, the ability to ensure safe learning environments for our students and staff by Monday morning is greatly reduced,” Najimy said.
At least two districts, Lexington and Burlington, already have elected to cancel school Monday because of the test kit delay.
Below is the full statement from Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy:
“After spending yesterday consulting with our Environmental Health & Safety Committee and public health experts, the Massachusetts Teachers Association is calling on state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley to keep all schools closed on Monday except for staff COVID-19 testing. To protect the public health and the safety of our communities, it is urgent to allow districts to use Jan. 3 for administering COVID-19 tests to school staff and analyzing the resulting data.
Educators and the MTA have long been demanding greater access to COVID-19 tests, leading the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Wednesday to announce the arrival of 200,000 tests for school staff. But without a strategic plan to make the tests available before this weekend, the ability to ensure safe learning environments for our students and staff by Monday morning is greatly reduced.
We recognize that delaying some students’ return to school poses challenges for families. But if there were a blizzard on Sunday evening, nobody would question the wisdom of declaring Monday a snow day. With the omicron variant spreading and COVID-19 positivity rates in the state surpassing 16 percent in the most recent seven-day average — and with Massachusetts now reporting more than 1 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic — it is fair to say that the health and safety risks we face from COVID-19 far surpass those presented by a nor’easter.
Using Monday as a day for testing and analyzing data will allow our school districts to make prudent decisions around staffing needs so they can continue in-person learning for students if it is safe or develop contingency plans if a district deems it to be necessary. It will also make it more likely that school staff already preparing to return to work on Jan. 3 will be more readily available for testing, thereby overcoming the logistical hurdles posed by the Baker administration’s failure to make adequate plans for the process.
The MTA is committed to making sure that in-person learning continues as long as it is safe — and that students, school staff, families and communities are protected as the new year begins to unfold.”
Colleen Cronin can be reached at email@example.com.