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State won’t test teachers in COVID classrooms

Vaccinated teachers not eligible for state’s rapid testing program

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
State won’t test teachers in COVID classrooms
The Ellison/Parks Early Education Center. BANNER PHOTO

After a pool test for COVID-19 in her school yielded a positive result, Ellison/Parks Early Education Center teacher Annie Shah-Solle knew what would come next — rapid tests for each classroom in the school.

But when the worker from the state’s contractor, CIC Health, came to her classroom to conduct tests this time, there was a difference.

“They would not test me,” she said. “I said, ‘Hold on a second. I need to get tested.’”

While the worker had hundreds of tests available, she told Shah-Solle that school staff who are vaccinated and wear masks are not eligible for testing under state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) guidelines.

“That had never been communicated to me,” said Shah-Solle, who added that she’s been tested on other occasions.

In Boston and across the state, dozens of teachers reported what they see as a sudden change in testing policy.

“Last week we started hearing members telling us they weren’t being tested even after they were identified as close contacts,” said Boston Teachers Union Vice President Erik Berg.

Beth Kontos, president of American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, said union members who have had contact with infected people in their schools were told they were not eligible for rapid tests, despite being in classrooms where students tested positive.

But a spokeswoman for DESE said the state’s policy has never been to test people who have been vaccinated.

“Fully vaccinated individuals are exempt from testing protocols,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email to the Banner. “They do not get tested as a close contact in the test-and-stay program. And DESE recommends that vaccinated individuals not be included in pooled testing. However, any individual who is symptomatic could be tested based on a nurse’s clinical discretion.”

Kontos says she fails to see the wisdom in the DESE policy.

“To me, it’s crazy because they could still be carrying the virus and could still be spreading it,” she said.

That’s what had Shah-Solle worried last week after she was denied a test. She and her husband have two toddlers who are not yet eligible for COVID vaccines and the four of them live with her parents, who are in their late 70s and early 80s.

“I was pleading with the woman,” she said. “She literally had hundreds of tests with her. I felt so anxious.”

Shah-Solle spent the rest of her day doing what most teachers are doing during the pandemic.

“I had to keep teaching,” she said. “The kids were all triggered. They were very anxious about there having been a positive test in the class. Kids were crying.”

Before heading home, Shah-Solle met up with her husband, who teaches at the Conley school, where three students recently tested positive. Together, they went to a city of Boston testing site and got negative results before heading home.

The next day, it was back to class, where students were still anxious about COVID spread.

“A lot of kids have had COVID or have family members who had COVID,” she said. “They’re scared.”

Shah-Solle says she, too, is anxious.

“We’re coming back in January and there could be rampant cases,” she said. “If teachers aren’t allowed to be tested, what are we going to do?”