Mass. School Officials Push for Free COVID Testing With Rapid Results as Districts Finalize Their Plans

Worcester School Committee member Tracy O’Connell Novick says currently the state’s protocol is if a student or staff member isn’t able to be tested, they need to stay home for 14 days.

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One school committee in Massachusetts is pushing the state to provide free, easily accessible, ongoing COVID-19 testing with a quick turnaround time before any school district in the commonwealth brings students back into the classroom.

“It feels irresponsible for us to say, 'well it’s your responsibility to go get a test and bring it back,'” said Worcester School Committee member Tracy O’Connell Novick.

Worcester’s school committee passed a resolution Thursday night in a 6-1 vote, and Novick says she’s already heard from several other school committees from across the state looking to have the same resolution requesting COVID testing before bringing students back into school buildings.

“If we’re actually as a state talking about putting a million kids back into buildings, and talking about having 150,000 staff, that are all in contact with each other,” said Novick, “we’ve got to be able to say, ‘you have symptoms, go get tested, you’re going to have results in a short period of time.’”

Novick says currently the state’s protocol is if a student or staff member isn’t able to be tested, they need to stay home for 14 days.

She says that’s not an acceptable solution when consistent testing and contact tracing is being required at businesses and colleges across the state.

“My daughter’s going back to college. She has to get tested before she goes on campus, she’s getting tested I think every two weeks while she’s there," Novick said. "There’s lots of places where this is happening, so it’s definitely doable, it’s just something that actually has to be a priority.”

The education commissioner was not immediately available for comment Friday, but parents and community members who spoke to NBC10 Boston agree that COVID testing should be part of the equation for K-12 students learning in-person.

“Because until they come up with something that we can actually be sure that the kids are going to be safe - yeah I’ll send my kids to school but not now," Worcester parent Eduardo Ortiz said.

“I honestly think having testing if you’re going to put that many kids together in one building, in one room, yeah it’s the most responsible thing to do,” Chris Rodriguez, of Worcester, added.

While many districts are moving to remote learning next month, the Burlington school district wants its youngest students in the classroom as much as possible. The plan is still in the works, but school officials are readying for a return to the classroom in Burlington.

"I think what they’re doing is a compromise and that makes sense," said parent Robert Fahey, who is eager to see his two kids back at school.

He says he supports any plan that takes every precaution.

"If it turns out this is not a good idea I’m sure they are watching very carefully and they’ll immediately yank them back out," he said.

School districts across Massachusetts have been grappling with potential budget shortages and the need to adjust staffing due to the coronavirus pandemic. In Randolph, there's concern from some that students will be missing out on a complete education. The superintendent says they're trying to make the best of a very difficult situation.

Under Burlington's current proposal, students in grades 6 and above would have a hybrid semester, with a mix of remote and in-person learning.

But the youngest learners get a different plan.

Kids in kindergarten through grade 5 would return in person, with desks 6 feet apart. They would leave before lunch and finish each day remotely.

"Teachers are terrified to go into the buildings," said Merrie Najimy, who is president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, winch has been pushing to keep educators out of the classroom until it's safer.

"If there’s even one incident in a building we risk pulling everybody out of school and disrupting school year from the get go," she said.

But many parents in Burlington have a different take. After remote learning in the spring, they're eager to see their kids return to classrooms for the fall.

"I think she should go back, I think it’s good," one woman said of her daughter.

"It’s impossible to satisfy everybody in this situation," one man said.

They're will be an all-remote option for any family who wants it, and Burlington's superintendent says they're still negotiating with their local teacher's union over their plan, meaning it could possibly change in the coming days.

Dr. Lisa Koche, director of Spectra Wellness Solutions Clinic, explains how to identify signs your child is struggling with stress or anxiety as school year approaches.
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