MA schools mostly reopen despite COVID surge

But staff shortages, case counts force ‘snow days’ in some districts

BOSTON — Despite the unprecedented surge in COVID infections last week, with some 60,000 new cases confirmed in just three days, most Massachusetts school districts reopened Monday, as scheduled, with many students and staff undergoing rapid antigen testing in the hours before the opening bell.

In some cases, however, that bell had to be delayed to get staff tested for COVID-19.

In Woburn, when testing kits didn’t come in when they were supposed to, Superintendent Matthew Crowley decided to open schools two hours late Monday -- to ensure adequate staffing. In all, 19 Woburn Public School staffers tested positive, Crowley said.

“Those individuals are currently isolating and will continue to do so until they’re feeling better,” Crowley said. “I would like to thank the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for providing us with these testing resources to ensure we are doing as much as possible to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our school buildings.”

Crowley said schools will be open tomorrow but urged those who don’t’ feel well to stay home.

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School districts in Ipswich and Burlington cited high COVID numbers as part of the reason for not opening Monday, with Ipswich taking a ‘snow day.’ Cambridge closed both Monday and Tuesday to offer PCR testing to students, which is considered more sensitive than the rapid tests.

In Brockton, the high school closed Monday because of staff absences due to COVID and other causes, but other schools remained open, despite COVID infections among staff.

The district plans to distribute 500 more test kits to staff but is operating on a day-to-day basis. One thing Brockton desperately needs is substitute teachers. It raised the pay for subs to $135 a day.

MORE: Boston aims to increase test sites, expand capacity after hours-long wait times

Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said the late arrival of the testing kits should have led to the closure of all public schools in the state Monday so that districts could assess staffing levels going forward.

“Tests were being distributed Sunday, and some testing sites were being set up in the schools Monday,” Najimy said. “So many educators were not taking the Covid test until today. Which means if they test positive and they are in school, it’s going to cause more chaos.”

Najimy said the fact the staff tests arrived so late is a planning failure on the parts of Governor Charlie Baker and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley.

“These tests should have been attained at the beginning of December and distributed by the time the schools closed down for the winter recess,” she said. “They weren’t announced until December 30. By December 31 they found out supply chain problems were getting in the way, and they had to scramble to find a new source. So when you do things at the last minute, the consequences are what we’re left with today.”

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