By Christine Mulroney
FRAMINGHAM – The FTA is committed to maintaining in-person learning while also protecting the health and safety of our students, educators and families. The surge in COVID-19 cases we are now experiencing is making it very difficult to achieve these goals, and I would like to outline the challenges that we face.
The availability of rapid testing for staff was welcome, but not all staff members were able to be in Framingham on Sunday during the 3 hour window that was available to pick up tests. We fully understand that this was not ideal and that our Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary education played a role in making this a challenging situation.
It was disappointing, however, that FPS did not arrange for an additional opportunity for staff to receive their rapid test, since it was the intent for all staff to receive rapid test packets. We request that staff who did not receive test packets be provided test packets as soon as possible.
With January underway, we want to be sure that the public is aware of the large number of staff and students that have tested positive and are in isolation. While this is not surprising, what is of major concern is that this means that staffing in buildings may be limited. When classes can’t be covered, how will students be adequately supervised?
At FHS, for example, if a teacher is out with no coverage, students report to the cafeteria. At any level or building, at what point would it be determined that there are too many students with limited supervision for it to be a safe environment?
With the uptick of covid cases, adherence to all safety protocols is essential. With limited staff comes the challenge of supervising students to comply with masking and social distancing. How are we addressing the chronic non-compliance to masking?
Wearing a well fitted mask at all times is essential to keeping everyone as safe as possible and in school during this surge. The CDC has also reduced the amount of time needed to isolate at home to 5 days with an additional 5 days back in school with a well fitting mask. This reduction of at home isolation is very concerning and we believe puts students and families at risk of exposure.
The city has made rapid tests available to families at the schools so that if a child presents at school with COVID-19 symptoms, they will be sent home with a rapid test for families to use. I’m not sure if you have used one of these at home tests, but they are not simple by any means. Several nurses have reported that they have been on the phone guiding parents in giving these tests.
Why would the district not provide additional staff, for the short term, to support testing at school before the child leaves the building? This way a parent could observe the process so they know how to use the second test in the test kit.
Let’s not forget the faulty data the DESE provided about the KN95 non-medical masks they sent to districts to offer to staff which had not been tested at MIT as DESE reported. The masks handed out by the state that were manufactured by Fujian Pageon and labeled “non medical” were not tested by MIT but were tested by CDC and shown to have efficacy rates of 25 to 45 percent I know the next few weeks will be challenging but our nurses are overwhelmed with what they are being asked to do on top of their regular duties.
Classroom teachers are not informed of COVID positive students in their classes and are unsure of who to provide work to when they are out. There has been no guidance about classroom layout during this surge and most school lunch rooms are set up to be super-spreader spaces.
District leadership needs to provide more direction to staff as we navigate this surge. Educators are overwhelmed and confused. This is not ‘business as usual” and you can’t ignore the data and just keep plugging on.
Let’s take a hard look at our physical structure and communication structure to do everything possible to keep everyone healthy and in school during this surge.
Christine Mulroney is President of the Framingham Teaches Association. She read this statement at last night’s School Committee meeting.