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.

Roberto Jiménez-Rivera of the Chelsea School Committee told the Boston Herald last week that the state’s plans don’t account for existing resource gaps between districts. “It acknowledges that COVID has hit different communities differently, but then it makes blanket recommendations for the entire state,” he said.

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.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

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.”