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Testing Kits For Massachusetts School Staff Delayed, Teachers Union Slams 'Last-Minute Scramble'

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Massachusetts Teachers Association is not satisfied with the Baker Administration's effort to get rapid COVID-19 tests to educators and school staff before the return from the holiday break, calling it a "last-minute scramble" and "logistical nightmare." The tests that were supposed to arrive on Thursday have been delayed by supply chain constraints.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Wednesday announced it would send a total of 200,000 test kits out to every school district, enough for schools to give two at-home tests to each employee. Teachers and staff are encouraged to take one of the tests before returning to the classroom on Monday.

"This decision, made without consultation with educators' unions and local stakeholders, is one more example of the failure of the Baker administration to get it right," MTA President Merrie Najimy said in a statement. "Plans for testing of this magnitude should have been communicated well in advance of schools closing for the winter break."

The department bought the tests from an out-of-state vendor, and the shipment was expected to arrive on Thursday, but that has been delayed. An alternative plan has been developed.

"School districts across the Commonwealth will reopen next week as scheduled, and more than 2,200 schools will continue to conduct regularly scheduled pooled testing, symptomatic, and Test and Stay programs," said Colleen Quinn, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Education.

School districts are being instructed to distribute the tests to teachers over the weekend, another point of contention for the MTA.

"Governor Charlie Baker and state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley have created a logistical nightmare all the way from distribution to testing oversight, placing the burden on school staff — particularly school nurses, who are already stretched beyond their capacity," Najimy said.

Baker on Thursday defended the rapid test distribution plan as "the right thing to do."

"We've talked to many communities, many superintendents who've said to us they appreciate it and they're looking forward to making those tests available to their teachers," he said.

While Riley said it's critical for students to remain in the classroom, the MTA is criticizing the lack of a contingency plan for local outbreaks.

"In this moment, there may be further instances when in-person learning is temporarily deemed too risky, and it is time for the department to show flexibility and leadership in this area," Najimy said. "We are tired of Band-Aid approaches from Baker and Riley when it comes to facing the biggest public health threat of our time."

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