Shipment of 200,000 rapid test for schools to arrive, be distributed this weekend

BOSTON — On December 20, Boston 25 News looked into the state’s test-and-stay program which is meant to keep kids in school but has been the subject of widespread criticism by educators for a lack of tests.

As school districts statewide prepare for the return from winter break next week while the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to spread, teachers and staff will have a new tool to track the virus.

State education officials announced on Wednesday they’ll be providing school districts with 200,000 rapid COVID-19 tests for teachers and staff. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, each district will receive enough tests to distribute two to every school staff member. The Boston Teachers Union said that doesn’t alleviate concerns about the current pool testing program in place for students.

“If we can test our college students twice a week in most of our nation’s colleges and universities, we ought to be able to provide rapid on-demand testing for our k-12 school communities,” Erik Berg, Executive Vice President of the Boston Teachers Union.

Berg told Boston 25 News that the Boston Teachers Union is demanding ramped up testing for students and staff as well as more transparency about shortcomings.

“The state’s testing program has been completely inadequate. It has not been up to the task,” said Berg. “When the testing has been done and a positive pool has been identified, the follow-up has been left to school personnel.”

Berg said students have not been getting tested every week as they’re supposed to and believes adequate testing in the coming weeks will be crucial.

“When those things are not happening, everyone needs to be transparent about it so families are informed about what is happening in our schools,” added Berg.

Other districts told Boston 25 News they believe the pool testing program has been working but that they’d like to see more families give consent.

“We have about 30 percent of families participating,” said Dr. Almi Abeyta, Superintendent of Chelsea Public Schools. “I do believe with the new variant and COVID rates going up that more families might be interested in weekly covid testing.”

In addition to pool testing, Provincetown Public Schools will have rapid tests available for any child experiencing any kind of symptom. The district is also making a change in mask recommendations for students.

“We will encourage our kids not just to wear the cloth masks but also the surgical masks that we’ll provide under the cloth masks,” said Dr. Suzanne Scallion, Superintendent of Provincetown Public Schools.

DESE said it distributed more than six million KN95 masks to schools for teachers and staff when school reopens in January. Commissioner Jeff Riley announced to superintendents across the state on Wednesday that Massachusetts Schools would be adopting the new CDC guidance of a five-day isolation policy instead of 10.