‘I Don't Feel It's Safe': School Nurses Raise Concerns 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 in Boston say they don't want in-class instruction to resume until they feel safe.

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 want to be back in school, but I need to be safe," said Sharon Harrison.

After nearly three decades working as a nurse in Boston schools, she's worried for students.

"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," Harrison said.

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," said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

Walsh said Tuesday 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 will gather outside Boston City Hall Wednesday morning for a rally to raise their concerns.

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