State officials are working to develop a COVID-19 testing pilot program focused on early education and care, Education Secretary James Peyser said Tuesday.
Peyser’s comments, during a Board of Early Education and Care meeting, came as Massachusetts is rolling out a new pooled testing initiative in K-12 schools and a day after more than 250 early education, care and out-of-school time providers, advocates and associations wrote to the Baker administration, blasting their sector’s exclusion from the plan.
In a Monday letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, Peyser and other officials, the group called it “unconscionable” that the pool testing program would not be open to early education and care providers, arguing that “if there are funds available for weekly, preventative Covid-19 testing for K-12 educators, there are funds available for us.”
Under the K-12 pool testing program Baker announced Friday, participating school districts will have access to weekly COVID-19 screening through a pooled strategy that involves testing several samples from the same group in one batch. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is covering the costs during the program’s initial launch period, and interested districts have until Friday to notify the state that they wish to participate.
Peyser told the early education board during a livestreamed meeting that the new initiative was “designed for the specific context of K-12” education and said that testing can also be a “valuable tool” for helping early education and child care programs stay open, or resume operations if they’d been closed.
He said Early Education and Care Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy has been “engaged with philanthropic partners” to develop a pilot testing program that takes into account the unique dynamics of early education — including smaller program sizes and variable daily attendance — and meets the need of center-based and family programs.
Education officials are reviewing the pilot with the state’s COVID-19 Command Center, which is led by Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. Peyser said he looks forward to a “more formal announcement very soon.”
Asked by board member Joan Wasser Gish for more details about what people in the field might expect from a testing pilot, Peyser said he did not want to “overstate my knowledge” of the still-developing plans.
He said the idea involves setting up “some regional testing sites that will prioritize early education providers and participants in order to give them really timely access to testing and results so that they can minimize the sort of interruptions and disruptions that have occurred as people are awaiting tests, are trying to schedule tests, are being forced to quarantine because they’ve been in close contact with someone who might be positive.”
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