By: Sarah Yi— Print Editor-in-Chief
Schools across the state received expired Covid-19 rapid test kits and masks that aren’t sufficient to protect against the virus from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). At the very last minute, there was not enough time for DESE to check its work before distribution in time for the return back to school after break.
Education Secretary James Peyser says that DESE staff worked very hard to secure at-home rapid antigen tests for schools and educators are grateful for their efforts and hard work to help schools during this difficult time. “We all remain committed to keeping schools open despite the recent uptick in COVID cases,” said Peyser.
“We all make mistakes — all of us. What’s important is that we repair our relationships when we discover that we’ve made an error,” said Interim superintendent of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District Patricia Kinsella. Kinsella says that we should all learn from our mistakes and make sure it doesn’t happen again. However, DESE spokesperson Jacqueline Reis and Boston district spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo were quick to point fingers.
“Districts that have expired BinaxNOW tests were told not to use them,” said Reis. “I have been asking around and it looks like some schools had a supply of tests from a previous shipment that we were not using. We have informed schools to not use those tests and are unsure why they were passed out today,” said Palumbo.
Instead of taking leadership responsibility, both Reis and Palumbo quickly placed blame on districts and their schools.
Education Commissioner at DESE Jeffrey C. Riley says that doing anything to keep students learning in classrooms is critical. “Providing these tests to teachers and staff is one more thing we can do to ensure that is possible,” said Riley. Riley says DESE is trying to use every mitigation strategy they can to have a good outcome in our schools.
President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) Merrie Najimy says that the plan should have been communicated well in advance of school closing. “The tests should have been ordered, delivered and sent home with educators before the doors shut for the winter recess,” said Najimy.
The MTA called on Riley to conduct Covid-19 testing to educators and to keep all schools closed the Monday after winter break due to the spike of the omicron coronavirus variant.
“The last-minute scramble by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide 200,000 test kits to educators is anything but that, jeopardizing our attempts to maintain safe in-person learning as schools reopen after the holiday break,” said Naijimy.
Governor Charlie Baker says that kids need to be in school when voicing his opinions about remote learning. “If we learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that the damage that’s been done to kids should never be repeated, and we have the tools and capabilities to keep people safe,” said Baker.