The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s statewide COVID-19 testing program for K-12 schools will not continue in the fall, according to a memo State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley sent out superintendents this week.
The program will continue for the remainder of this school year, and districts can choose to make the tests available for students and the community prior to in-person school events like prom or graduation ceremonies.
During the summer, according to the memo, the state will continue to provide self-tests for those who show symptoms but “staffing, software, and all other services currently provided through CIC Health will no longer be available through the state-run program.”
Schools and districts will be able to purchase self-tests through the statewide contract, according to the memo.
“DESE and [the Department of Public Health] strongly recommend that schools and districts interested in implementing their own testing program limit that program to symptomatic rapid testing only,” the memo noted.
Executive Office of Education spokeswoman Colleen Quinn said the change is largely due to a “shifting approach to the pandemic” and there being a widespread availability of tests. About 75 percent of COVID tests conducted on students are currently happening at home.
DESE reported its first decline in coronavirus cases in schools this week since the beginning of March, with 9,803 cases among students and 2,926 among staff for the week that ended Wednesday.
The 12,729 total cases represent a drop of 6,239, or nearly 33 percent, from those reported the week before, according to data published by the state.
The drop in positive cases comes after multiple Massachusetts districts strongly urged students to begin masking again or reinstated a mask mandate. The state at the end of February lifted its school mask mandate, leaving it up to individual districts to determine whether to keep them in place. While most lifted their mandates, a few, including Boston, kept them in place.
Additionally, DESE, the Department of Early Education and Care, and the Department of Public Health updated the isolation and quarantine guidance for children in child care centers and other educational settings on Wednesday. An asymptomatic and unvaccinated child who’s been exposed to COVID is no longer requiring to quarantine or do test and stay.
The guidance states that children identified as close contacts can continue to be in class or in child care “as long as they remain asymptomatic.” For those who can mask, the guidance says they should for 10 days, and it recommends testing on days two and five, but it’s not required.
Quinn said the change was made to “better support programs” and create a more consistent experience for families who have children in multiple educational settings since all children in K-12, child care, out-of-school time programs, and recreational camps will be following the same set of quarantine and isolation guidance.