Educators’ unions are calling on the state to support their efforts to ensure in-person learning in the fall keeps students, teachers, families and staff safe.
With the Delta variant making its way through the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance this week recommending that all teachers, students and staff in K-12 schools wear masks, even if they’ve received a COVID vaccine.
Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said this guidance is welcome. With kids under 12 still not approved to receive the vaccine and the vaccination rate among 12 to 15-year-olds still low, Najimy said she thinks other strategies are needed.
“We can have full, in-person learning as safely as possible this fall,” said Najimy. “Masking was one of three or four critical mitigation strategies that really helped control transmission in the school buildings.”
She added that another critical piece is school buildings’ ventilation systems – she said many districts have schools that need upgrades.
The union is also is urging the Commonwealth to provide continued free and accessible COVID testing.
Najimy noted that while being vaccinated is enough to protect most people, COVID still poses a risk to children under 12 or people whose immune systems don’t respond to the vaccine.
She added communities of color have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, and feels there is a collective responsibility to ensure that everybody is safe.
“We have the right formula to do that in schools,” said Najimy. “It’s ventilation, masking, distancing, hand-washing, and testing. So, there’s no reason why the state can’t step up and provide the leadership that we need at this moment.”
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had been planning to lift all COVID restrictions in schools this fall, and Gov. Charlie Baker said prior to the updated recommendations that he wasn’t considering a mask mandate.
This week, his office said it will review the updated CDC guidance.