Massachusetts education board releases detailed coronavirus protocols for potential student, staff exposure

Detailed protocols on what to do if a student or staff member tests positive for coronavirus, is symptomatic at school, or if there is an outbreak were outlined by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Even as we remain vigilant, and public health metrics in Massachusetts remain positive, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in school will not be zero,” reads the 19-page set of guidelines posted late last week.

The protocols provide detailed steps on what to do in 10 different scenarios that include symptomatic staff and students in school, on the bus or at home,  and with outbreaks in the school or district and potential school closure or a statewide reopening regression.

The step-by-step protocols are also broken down into elementary, middle and high school levels that often rely on symptom detection, notifying close contacts, keeping sick children or staff home and having remote learning options at the ready.

Jonathan Haines, a Boston Teachers Union member and school nurse at McKinley Elementary School said the protocols are very clear and detailed, but are not realistic when it comes to implementation and resources.

“There’s no kind of pre-screening protocols, or there’s an assumption of white wealthy communities where there is easy access to health care and where families have easy options to keep their kids home,” said Haines.

In many scenarios outlined in the guidelines, students and staff are often asked to stay home, even if a symptomatic person tests negative or a person is exposed to the virus and is symptomatic but tests negative.

If a student or staff member tests positive for coronavirus, the protocols say they must stay home, monitor symptoms, notify the school and close contacts, and depending on the situation, certain areas in the school may be closed off, cleaned and communication will be sent to families.

BTU President Jessica Tang said in a statement, “We still have many concerns about the facilities, air quality, and the time needed for all health and safety protocols to be put in place before the start of the school year.”

As the start of the school year inches closer, districts must submit a preliminary reopening plan to DESE by July 31, according to a spokeswoman.

That summary will include which model the district plans to use, which could be in-person, hybrid, or remote.

By Aug. 10, districts must finalize their plan, submit them to DESE and release them publicly to the community, according to the DESE spokeswoman.

Haines said, “This kind of thinking should have been done in March,” adding, “There really is not a lot of input from people who actually have to implement this.”

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