Mass. to end funding for school COVID-19 testing

Schools will have to purchase kits through a state contract this fall, should they want tests on hand.

Lane Turner/Globe Staff
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Massachusetts will not provide COVID-19 testing to schools this fall, according to a recent memo Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley sent to superintendents and other education administrators.

“The end of the 2021-22 school year will mark the end of the state-run, state-coordinated K-12 testing program, although districts and schools will have access to state-provided self-tests to conduct symptomatic testing themselves during summer school,” Riley wrote in the May 24 memo.

Schools currently have access to state-provided, self-test kits, pooled testing, and the so-called “test and stay” programs. Over the summer, only the self-test kits — which are used for symptomatic testing — will continue to be available.


But that will change come the fall, according to Riley’s memo.

“For school year 2022-23, DESE and (the Department of Public Health) strongly recommend that schools and districts interested in implementing their own testing program limit that program to symptomatic rapid testing only,” Riley wrote. “Schools and districts may purchase self-tests through the statewide contract.”

The commissioner said DESE is still urging schools to encourage students and staff members to get vaccinated against COVID-19, including by hosting mobile vaccination clinics on school property. Schools can request clinics to come to their buildings through DESE.

“I am grateful for your diligence and resourcefulness over the last two years, including using our testing program as one of many important mitigation strategies to maintain in-person learning for our students,” Riley wrote to educators.

The decision to cut funding for tests has angered public health experts and teachers, as coronavirus continues to linger, especially in local schools.

Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, told GBH the decision is “irresponsible.”

“Educators are feeling demoralized because all of these decisions have been made about them without their real input,” Najimy said. “And they have been asked time and time again, in fact, expected to put their lives on the line in a way that they never had before.”


According to the news station, over 2,200 public and private schools have used different state-funded testing programs.

The change to having schools purchase their own testing will worsen inequities across districts, experts said.

“For those school districts that do decide to continue testing, they’re going to have to earmark additional funds outside of their existing programming to purchase it from the schools,” Dr. Cassandra Pierre, medical director of Boston Medical Center Public Health Programs, told GBH. “And that is not an inconsequential thing in school districts that are less resourced.”

COVID-19 cases are declining in Massachusetts again, following an uptick last month, the latest state data shows.

But the virus is still spreading in schools. Pierre is particularly concerned about how asymptomatic cases in classrooms will continue to spread without a pool testing option available.

She cited high numbers of child hospitalizations and deaths during the omicron surge earlier this year. A fifth of all child COVID deaths in the United States occurred during that surge, The Guardian reported in March.

“One of the concerns I have is the language that we see shifting where you now are hearing that testing is a burden or an imposition that we’re forcing on our children rather than the resource that it is,” Pierre told GBH. “This disease has kind of highlighted our interconnectedness. So children can transmit to their parents, to their grandparents, to other vulnerable members of the community.”


Najimy told the station she wants to see new options for schools to track virus spread — such as COVID presence in wastewater — if state-funded testing is no longer on the table.

“If we’re going to take away rapid testing, it needs to be replaced with some kind of tool that’s still going to help us understand the rates of infection — school by school and town by town,” Najimy said.


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