CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) -Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley has refused a request by the state’s largest teachers’ union to close schools Monday for staff COVID-19 testing.
On Friday morning, the Massachusetts Teachers Association called on Riley to keep schools closed to students on Monday, and have only staff report to work, in order to receive tests.
Colleen Quinn, a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Education, released a statement in response to the MTA’s request, reading:
“The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education worked hard this week to make at-home rapid tests available to all public school teachers and staff in light of the testing shortages being experienced around the country. Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states supplying rapid tests to its teachers. It is a not a requirement for teachers to return to work, or necessary to reopen schools after the holiday break. 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. 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.”Colleen Quinn, spokeswomen for the Executive Office of Education
Quinn also echoed the response that Governor Charlie Baker gave on Thursday, regarding the importance of schools remaining open.
Baker was asked by a reporter “Can I just ask you about kids in school? It’s so important to parents that their kids spend time in school rather than remote learning, and it looks like the Mass Teachers Association in their latest release, they want more flexibility with the remote learning. Any plans to change that at all, or what do you…”
Governor Charlie Baker then responded by saying:
“No, kids need to be in school. If we learned anything from this pandemic, its the damage that was done to kids should never be repeated. We have the tools and capabilities to keep people safe. Keep in mind that last year with no vaccines, parochial and private schools, many of which – parochial schools especially – are located in some of the highest case count communities in Massachusetts, spent the entire year with very limited issues associated with COVID generally. We now have vaccines, we now have additional testing capacity, cities and towns will have the ability to buy additional testing capacity to make that available to their – many of them took the tests that we made available to them last week and distributed those to their kids in school so that those kids to be able to take those tests before they came into school. We also have the largest test and stay program in the country and we saved 350,000 school days so far this year as a result of that program. There are a lot of tools and capabilities available to keep kids and adults safe in school, and we should do everything in our power to make sure that kids stay in school.”Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker
The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Merrie Najimy wanted to make Monday solely a test day for staff to allow the Massachusetts school districts to develop a contingency plan and decide whether or not students should return to remote learning.
The MTA’s goal it establish a safe way to return to in-person learning while by overcoming logistical hurdles, to ensure students, families, educational staff, and communities are protected.
The vendor who had previously committed to supplying tests for Massachusetts School Districts says they will not meet Friday’s delivery deadline.
A representative with the Department of Elementary and Secondary education told 22News in a statement, that they have developed an alternative plan, and will be making test kits available for distribution this weekend.
They said more details would be shared with districts on Friday as they get more information. Agawam mayor Bill Sapelli told 22News he wants teachers to have peace of mind before returning to their classrooms on Monday.
“People have been traveling the last 10-12 days, school staff, they have been gathering with relatives. the fact they will have the option to take these tests would be very helpful,” said Mayor Sapelli.
DESE is hoping to distribute 200 thousand at home tests before schools open back up.