BOSTON (WPRI) — The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) is asking for schools to stay closed on Monday so teachers and staff can use the day to get tested for COVID-19, but the state said no.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is sending 200,000 at-home testing kits to school districts throughout the state so teachers and staff can test for COVID-19 before they return to work after the holiday break, which is Monday.
Every district will get enough tests to ensure two can be sent to each staff member: one to be taken no more than 24 hours before they return to work, and the second to be used at the staffer’s discretion, according to DESE.
However, on Thursday DESE said the tests have been delayed by supply chain constraints.
“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. “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.”
Colleen Quinn, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Education, put out a statement hours later, rejecting the proposal.
“The commissioner is not going to close schools Monday, and asks teachers to be patient as we work to get tests in their hands this weekend,” Quinn said.
The state’s largest teachers union said they recognized delaying some students’ return to school is a challenge for families, but compared their demand to a snow day.
“If there were a blizzard on Sunday evening, nobody would question the wisdom of declaring Monday a snow day,” Najimy said.
“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,” Najimy continued.
The American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts (AFT) posted on Twitter late Friday morning saying Massachusetts public school students and their families have the right to know that after the holiday break they are returning to safe schools.
“The tests provided by the state allow for testing of all teachers and staff, and that should proceed. It should then be followed by a period of remote learning until the current wave of infections abates,” AFT President Beth Kontos said.
Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states supplying rapid tests to its teachers.
“It is not a requirement for teachers to return to work, or necessary to reopen schools after the holiday break,” Quinn said. “It is disappointing that once again the MTA is trying to find a way to close schools, which we know is to the extreme detriment of our children.”