Who should pay for the masks?
School districts worry about cost of personal protective equipment
IT’S NO SECRET that school budgets are strained more drastically than ever as classrooms prepare to reopen in the fall. Backup masks for kids who don’t have them, hand sanitizer, and copious amounts of cleaning supplies are going to be needed.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a guidance a week ago, outlining its rules for teachers and students to wear masks and keep three feet apart. Parents have been asked to monitor their children’s health for COVID-19 symptoms.
Gov. Charlie Baker said nearly $200 million in additional funding will help schools with COVID-related costs, but education leaders remain skeptical about the details and want more.
More than 100 school committees across the state have passed resolutions asking the state to cover the costs.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association blasted the news out of Beacon Hill, with President Merrie Najimy declaring her “vehement point of opposition” to the requirement that each district is responsible for purchasing its own COVID-19 personal protective equipment.
“That is far too much like President Trump telling states they had to buy their own ventilators and testing supplies rather than using the centralized authority and purchasing power of the federal government to protect public health and safety by making vital equipment available,” she said.
“The sooner the Legislature hears us and can take some action, the better,” said Peter Demling, vice chair of the Amherst School Committee. Demling oversaw the drafting of the resolution. “If the state is going to come out with a mandate to open school safely, they need to make sure we have the money to do it,” he told the Boston Globe.
Federal grants currently available to municipalities include $193.8 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to districts, part of the $502 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund already allocated to cities and towns. Much of those funds require spending by the end of the year.Considering there are 289 school districts across the state, the funds could get divvied up pretty quickly.
In early June, Laura Clancey, a Worcester School Committee member, told CommonWealth that personal protective equipment will cost the district “millions” and she’s not sure where the money will come from. Fellow committee member Tracy Novick told the Globe, “We simply cannot deliver on their mandate without a full reimbursement guarantee to provide safe facilities [and transportation] for all students and staff.”