School districts gear up for new school year, officials speak about COVID guidance

School districts gear up for new school year, officials speak about COVID guidance
Published: Aug. 28, 2022 at 12:19 AM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) -Local students are gearing up to return to school this week with scaled-back COVID-19 restrictions, but not everyone is on board with the latest guidance.

When students pack their backpacks this coming school year, they can leave the masks at home, while students we spoke with say they’re excited to return to normal, the state’s teachers association president cautions against what it could mean if there’s another COVID surge.

“I’m so excited it’s going to be a great year,” said Samantha Brennan, a senior at Holyoke High School.

Samantha Brennan started her freshman year at Holyoke High School in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, she’s gearing up for her senior year with reduced COVID-19 restrictions.

“I got my senior field hockey season ahead of me so I’m so excited,” Brennan said.

This year when students and staff head back to school, they will be following the same covid-19 guidance put in place by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary education and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health last spring.

These restrictions include no mask mandates in schools except in health offices, no contact tracing, or COVID testing. People exposed to COVID don’t have to quarantine regardless of vaccination status, students and staff that test positive can head back to school after five days if they do not have any symptoms. COVID-19 cases in schools do not have to be reported to DESE.

While some students and staff across the commonwealth said they’re excited for a close to pre-pandemic school year, Max Page, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association said he’s concerned about what it could mean if there’s another surge in COVID cases.

“The researchers the public health officials say we can expect another surge, a new variant in the like so the fact that they’re stepping back from their supportive testing program, the fact that they’re not gonna keep records, public records of the number of staff and students who get COVID we think that that’s really problematic,” Page said.

He’s calling for schools to be proactive, rather than reactive.

“Rather than someday be shocked and surprised but be ready in case we need to go back to some kind of masking and surveillance testing,” Page said.

On a local level, we checked in with Springfield Public Schools’ superintendent Dan Warwick, who said they are confident with the guidelines in place.

“I think they can expect to go back to our schools in a more normal environment than we have in the last three years,” he said.

Students are looking forward to that normalcy.

“I think it’s going to be great to go back and feel like school is normal again like COVID’s hopefully over,” said Brennan.

Springfield and Holyoke students in grades 1-12 are scheduled to head back to the classroom on Monday. Holyoke students in preschool and kindergarten are set to start on the sixth. Springfield kindergarteners start their school year on September seventh and preschoolers on September eighth.