MA Educators, Parents: Schools Need Comprehensive COVID Protection Plan
Lily Bohlke – Commonwealth News Service
Parents, educators and school nurses are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to take steps toward a comprehensive state-run COVID-19 protection plan.
They say with the Omicron variant causing surges in hospitalizations across Massachusetts, the Commonwealth needs a state-run in-school vaccination program, state-sponsored distribution of high-quality masks and a state-coordinated, state-financed and transparent testing program for every school district.
Jacqueline Velez, parent of a public-school student in Springfield, is advocating for change.
“You would not send a fireman into a burning building without protective gear, police on the streets without a means to communicate with their counterparts,” Velez asserted. “So, during a global pandemic, why would we send teachers and public-school staff into school buildings without the best possible accommodations we can send them in with?”
COVID-19 vaccination rates among children five to 11 years old are low in some of the Commonwealth’s poorest communities. Fewer than 20% of younger children are vaccinated in Athol, Fall River, New Bedford, Brockton and Springfield.
Cara Berg Powers, interim executive director of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, said some schools and school districts are better prepared than others.
She noted while millions of dollars in federal funds are coming to schools, some have critical repair backlogs and ventilation needs, and will not have any leftover funds for personal protective equipment, testing or vaccinations.
“Inequity is inevitable when we do not have a comprehensive strategy and ask districts to take things on themselves, ask families to take things on themselves, and ask 8-year-olds like my daughter to be public health experts,” Berg Powers contended.
Baker announced plans last week to provide rapid at-home test kits to schools and child-care providers, as the existing state-run testing system has been strained by the latest surge.