Teachers Union Slams "Last-Minute Scramble" Testing Plan For Schools

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BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced a new plan to help provide free at-home rapid COVID tests for educators in the Commonwealth, but not everyone is happy with the plan.

The plan involves sending out 200,000 testing kits to school districts all across the Commonwealth. Schools districts then can distribute the tests to teachers and school staff to use prior to their return to classrooms after the conclusion of winter break.

As a part of the plan, all school staff will receive two tests. While staff are not required to test before returning to work, the DESE said in a statement it strongly encourages educators to use one of the tests no more than 24 hours before they return. The tests were sent out to regional locations where districts could pick them up beginning Thursday, Dec. 30.

“DESE staff worked very hard to secure these at-home rapid antigen tests for schools and we are all grateful for their efforts and hard work to help schools during this difficult time,” Education Secretary James Peyser said in a statement. “We all remain committed to keeping schools open despite the recent uptick in COVID cases.”

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However, the Massachusetts Teachers Association is not happy with the new plan. In a statement from Association President Merrie Najimy, the association called out Governor Charlie Baker and the DESE and said this "last-minute scramble" to provide testing kits will only jeopardize their attempts to maintain safe in-person learning and students and staff return to classrooms.

Najimy said in the statement the decision was made without consulting the educators union and other stakeholders.

"Plans for testing of this magnitude should have been communicated well in advance of schools closing for the winter break," Najimy said. "Instead, Governor Baker and state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley have created a logistical nightmare all the way from distribution to testing oversight, placing the burden on school staff — particularly school nurses, who are already stretched beyond their capacity."

The Teachers Association called for the governor to create a broader distribution plan and provide staffing to make sure tests are being used. Najimy said given the timing of the announcement, it leaves districts with not enough time to develop a plan in case of an outbreak.

"We are tired of Band-Aid approaches from Baker and Riley when it comes to facing the biggest public health threat of our time," Najimy said.

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