Commissioner: COVID-19 has taken emotional toll on students

Coronavirus Local Impact

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. (AP) — It could take years to help students in Massachusetts fully rebound from the emotional cost of spending months in virtual classes — some for nearly a year — away from teachers and friends, state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said Friday.

“As we go forward this isn’t just kind of a summer school thing that needs to be fixed. It’s going to be a several year process to get our kids back to where they need to be,” Riley said at a Friday press conference.

“We have to work on the social, emotional needs of our students, make sure they have everything from the food they need to the counseling services to the special education supports,” Riley said.

The pandemic forced most schools to transition initially to a virtual setting with students staying home and connecting to online classes — a change that has taken an emotional toll on many students suddenly denied the chance to interact with teachers and friends.

“We’ve got to make sure our students are in the right place mentally and then after that we can take care of the academics,” Riley added. “That’s what we are going to do.”

Riley made the comments during a press conference at the Nock-Molin Middle School in Newburyport to highlight the state’s pooled COVID-19 testing program.

Under the program, 10 nose swabs from one classroom or cohort of students and staff can be collected into one tube to be tested together. If the pooled sample is negative, all the individuals are presumed negative. If the pooled sample comes back positive, all the individuals will be retested with the rapid test.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the program is one more tool local school districts can use to get students and teachers back into nonvirtual classrooms.

“To get to the point where this thing is really starting to rock and roll is a real pleasure I think for all of us who were looking to find a relatively uncomplicated way for schools to implement a weekly surveillance program,” the Republican said.

So far there are about 950 schools in about 159 school districts statewide that are administering the weekly tests to about 300,000 students, teachers and staff.

Riley said he expects the number to increase significantly in the next week and a half.

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