|Governor Says Schools Will Remain Open|
|Staff Reports, |
02:19PM / Monday, January 03, 2022
SALEM, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker gave no indication that the schools will go remote this year despite the rising cases of COVID-19.
Speaking at Saltonstall School early Monday morning, the governor noted that his administration has "aggressively partnered" with schools across the state to ensure they could safely open in the new year.
"We said for quite awhile from the beginning of the school year, and in fact al the way back to last spring, that it was critically important for kids to be back in school for a number of reasons," he said during the livestream event, pointing to the potential affects of remote learning on social development, education and mental health. "The vast majority of the schools and districts in Massachusetts are opening today."
Both the Massachusetts Teachers Association and American Federation of Teachers had called for a delay in openings to give districts the opportunity for further testing of the novel coronavirus after the holiday break. The state has seen its positive numbers skyrocket because of the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Some schools did delay opening to set up testing centers for faculty and staff but the vast majority, including those in the Berkshires, opened on Monday.
"There was all kinds of talk last week about how schools wouldn't open in Massachusetts today. It did pretty much across the commonwealth. There are very small number of district that aren't in school," Baker said.
The state has said it will distribute another 200,000 rapid test kits — on top of more than 2 million provided to targeted areas before the holidays — specifically for schools. However, high demand has made these kits difficult to obtain.
In Salem, Superintendent Brian Hendrickson said the schools had been provided with test kits, that testing was done over the weekend and that staff had been fitted with new masks that morning.
"While there will be curveballs to navigate over the next few days, we feel its important for kids to be in school," he said.
It was a message that Mayor Kim Driscoll, standing with the governor, reiterated: "the most important thing we want to stress to our students and our families is the need for our students to be in person."
In North Adams, Superintendent Barbara Malkas acknowledged last week that there ha been a daily and steady increase in the number of positive cases in the school district. That included five positive results at the high school and Brayton and Greylock elementaries.
Like many districts, North Adams has been participating in the pool testing program and, according to Malkas, staff were issued self-administered tests before the start of school.
"In addition, we will continue to implement our mitigation strategies for masking, personal hygiene, classroom disinfection, weekly COVID surveillance testing, and supporting vaccination and booster shots," she wrote in a missive to parents. "Please consider double masking for your child(ren) for the first week back to school when infection rates are expected to increase."
Baker said some 2,200 schools were participating in some way with the state's testing system and that more than 450,000 school days had been saved through the work of school and public health officials.
"I do believe that the people of Massachusetts will pull hard once again to make sure that kids are in school and have that in-school experience which is so important to their development both economically and socially," he said.
But the governor added that keeping kids in the classroom will be the priority.
"The rules here are pretty simple: we count in-person school as school," said the governor. "If a school district is not open at some point over the course of a year, they can use snow days until they run out of snow days.
"But they do need to provide their kids with 180 days of in-person education this year and we'll do everything we can to help them deliver on that."