‘Overwhelmed and Afraid': School Nurses Rally in Boston Over Reopening Plans

As Massachusetts prepares for schools to reopen in the fall, nurses in Boston Public Schools are questioning the safety of workers and students

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School nurses gathered outside Boston City Hall Wednesday morning for a rally to raise their concerns over in-class instruction.

As Massachusetts plans for thousands of students to return to their schools, nurses with Boston Public Schools want to know what the plan is for them.

“I appreciate the nurses for coming out. We all should have concerns and we all do have concerns," Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said at a Tuesday press conference.

Walsh said schools have to open, "at some point," whatever that date may be.

"Right now’s the time to have those conversations about what that looks like," Walsh said. "I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t tell if September 10th is the right day yet. I hope it is. It’s too early to say that now. So now is the time to be sitting and having conversations.”

After nearly three decades working as a nurse in Boston schools, Sharon Harrison said she's worried about the students.

"I want to be back in school, but I need to be safe," Harrison said. "I take care of medically complex children, and they have a lot of faith in me, and I don't want to say, 'We're ready to open,' when I don't earnestly feel that we are."

This week, nurses across the district are pushing to get more details from school leaders on the plans to reopen here come fall.

"Nurses are feeling overwhelmed and afraid," said nurse Jonathan Haines, adding that those in his profession feel left out of the conversation.

Nurses say that conversation should be focused on ramping up safety measures, from improving ventilation in buildings to providing rapid testing for COVID-19 in schools — something that isn't widely available across the country.

"We send them home, they get tested, and it's four or five days before we get those test results," Haines explained. "What do we do, close the school for four or five days?"

But answering every concern is not so simple.

"We don't know if it's too early or too late right now, quite honestly," Walsh said.

Walsh said that the city and district still aren't even sure when schools will open. But as they prepare to submit plans to the state — due this month — they plan to engage everyone, including nurses, in the process.

"At some point, we're going to have to reopen school. Whether that's Sept. 10, Oct. 10, Nov. 10, Dec. 10, whatever it is, and I think right now is the time to have conversation about what that looks like," Walsh said.

But what that looks like now doesn't make Harrison feel ready for fall.

"I need to know that we are safe opening up schools, and I don't feel safe at this point," she said.

Nurses in Massachusetts schools are speaking out about their concerns about the state's plans to reopen schools this fall.
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