The Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) on Tuesday released their guidance to school districts in the state relating to the pandemic and the 2022/23 school year.
“As we prepare to open schools and welcome back students in the coming weeks, we are all looking forward to providing our students with in-person experiences that will offer rich learning opportunities, robust extra-curricular activities, and an educational environment for positive social interactions among students and between students and staff,” the two organizations wrote before getting into the updated guidance for district.
Perhaps the most notable updates are in regards to their recommendations regarding testing, which they say should be focused on individuals showing signs of being sick.
“This upcoming school year, districts and schools should focus their COVID mitigation strategies towards vulnerable and symptomatic individuals, while minimizing the need for more restrictive districtwide COVID policies,” the organizations wrote.
The memo also notes that the state stopped its distribution of test kits for districts in the spring and if any district wants to supply free tests for some or all of their students and faculty they will need to purchase them through the state portal. They do recommend, however, that there be tests on hand if needed.
“Additionally, districts are encouraged to purchase a supply of self-tests for students and staff through statewide contract HSP 41 to prepare for possible outbreaks,” DESE and DPH state.
The guidance also states that masks will not be required in schools, the same as the latter part of the previous school year. However, anyone who is more comfortable in a mask should be allowed to wear one.
“There is no statewide requirement for masking in schools, apart from in school health offices, and the Commonwealth is not recommending universal mask requirements,” the memo states. “As always, any individual who wishes to continue to mask, including those who face higher risk from COVID-19, should be supported in that choice.”
Finally, DESE and DPH do strongly recommend vaccinations as the best way of combating the spread of COVID-19.
“Vaccines continue to be the best way to protect individuals against the effects of COVID-19,” the memo states. “DESE and DPH strongly recommend that all faculty, staff, and students, including the Commonwealth’s youngest children ages 6 months to 5 years, receive the COVID-19 vaccine primary series and all boosters, as they become eligible for them.
They also stated that DPH will be holding free vaccination clinics that do not require any proof of insurance and encourage districts to hold their own clinics with state-approved vaccine providers.