We’ve reached a stage of the COVID-19 pandemic where public health officials seem eager to bring us closer to normalcy. One of the first tests of this rollback of restrictions will be the start of the school year as kids and educators reenter the classroom.
Come September, “The Commonwealth is not recommending universal mask requirements, surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals, contact tracing, or test-to-stay testing in schools,” according to the Department of Public Health. These changes reflect similar changes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We asked Boston.com readers if they’re happy with the state’s decision to relax COVID guidelines in schools ahead of the 2022-23 academic year, and most readers polled said the move was past due.
“It’s about time. Actually long overdue,” said Dave, a parent from Winchester. “Many won’t realize it until we look back and see that heavy restrictions did more bad than good for kids.”
Many readers said they were concerned about the social and emotional damage the ongoing pandemic has had on children, who have had their developmental years and schooling disrupted by lockdowns. Early research shows that these concerns aren’t unfounded, but may not apply to children across the board.
One reader named T. Strong said she’s been an educator for decades and thinks Massachusetts officials are acting too rashly by relaxing the COVID guidelines.
“I know I will continue to wear a mask. I will get the new booster as soon as it is available, and continue to act like a person who doesn’t want to get a deadly virus. I know this pandemic has not been figured out yet,” she said. “And as a person who has worked for the Boston Public Schools for 30 years, I have experienced how well viruses travel in these old buildings stuffed to capacity with unrelated people. It is my opinion that it is too early to let our guard down.”
Her apprehension is shared by a number of local health professionals and educators who formed The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity. The coalition recently called on the state to require students and employees who get COVID to isolate for 10 days or until they no longer test positive on a rapid test.
Some readers, like Janis L. from Beverly who said she was an educator for more than 65 years and now works as a substitute teacher, think schools should find a middle ground.
“Should not be a blanket call,” she said. “People are back from vacation! Vaccine rates and testing per school system should be considered first just to be sure of community health in September.”
We heard from both parents and educators who shared their thoughts on this issue. Below you’ll find a sampling of their thoughts about the latest COVID guidelines for Massachusetts schools.
Some entries may be edited for length and clarity.
Do you think Mass. is right to relax COVID guidelines ahead of the new school year?
Yes, it’s time to relax guidelines.
“The damage done to children’s education and overall well-being from COVID-related protocols and restrictions far outweighs any risk from the infection now that most are vaccinated.” — Doug, Lexington parent
“Finally! Putting kids first! We have plenty of data to support these guidelines and put an end to hysteria.” — John, Shrewsbury educator and parent
“It’s about time. Let the kids live their lives. This has messed them up enough, time to get back those missed years and heal from all the crap they went through.” — Michelle, Wilmington parent
“About time. The data has shown for a long time that we need to protect high-risk individuals more than the general population. Most kids are not high risk.” — Matt, Norwell parent
“We have to live with this and focus on the protection of the most vulnerable. That group does not include children. I do think we need regular testing and especially available during surges (a repeat of last Christmas where you can’t find a home test anywhere is UNACCEPTABLE), but at some point we need to learn how to live with this and we can’t isolate with every sickness.” — Bridget, South End parent
No, this is irresponsible.
“I know it may be time, and my family is vaxxed and boosted. But, I expect my kids to be positive with COVID in the first two months. While I’m sure they’ll be fine, I am concerned about being able to safely gather with their high-risk grandmother. It’s scary.” — Katy, Marlborough parent
“Irresponsible not to continue tight requirements with close contacts, and without the need to be sure a student or staff is not returning to school while still positive. This plan is likely to result in a huge surge and take us back two years, especially when so few children are vaccinated.” — Maureen S., Raymond educator and parent
“Schools are unique environments with a lot of people congregating for several hours per day. If parents are allowed to send their COVID-19-positive kids to school, it becomes the burden of school staff to get those kids to keep their masks on for 10 days. Without precautions in place, it’s up to individual staff to decide how much to care. I won’t be informed of COVID-19 cases in my classes, so basically I will be in the dark. And no one knows what’s ahead with this virus.” — Ellen B., Sharon educator and parent
“I think the test-to-stay program should stay in place. Removing this and masking is asking for the worst surge yet. It is unfortunate that after two-plus years people have given up.” — Alex, Lexington parent
“It would make more sense to wait four weeks after kids return to school to see what impact their proximity to other kids [has on] community infection, and then make an informed decision. It feels like these decisions are made devoid of any data or scientific reasoning.” — Paulo C., Winthrop parent
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinions.