School District Works to Implement Test-to-Stay Practice
SHAWNEE, Kan. — Members of the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas implemented changes to their test-to-stay practice this week, based on new guidance supported by the Biden administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on using the method to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
“We made our plans to test-to-stay back in November before the administration made their planning. Our kids come back [on Jan. 4] and we will learn a lot from the next couple weeks as we implement that plan,” said David Smith, chief communications officer of the Shawnee Mission School District Center for Academic Achievement, in a phone call with The Well News.
Test-to-Stay is a practice that allows any unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individual exposed to COVID-19 to remain in school as long as they are asymptomatic, wear a mask at all times, maintain 6 feet from others at school and receive a COVID test twice within a seven-day period that shows a negative result.
The SMSD recently updated their semester mitigation plan to include new guidance from the CDC that lessens the time period for testing from every day to every other day within a seven-day period.
Smith said this will lessen the burden on families who have to drive to a centralized testing site located in Broadmoor that services 47 schools in the district.
“The only thing that has changed is we were advised that we can go to testing every other day rather than testing every day,” said Smith.
“One of the concerns we had is we are doing it at a central location, as we have an outside vendor we are working with. The challenge with that is when you do something like that it requires transportation to a location to participate in schooling, and you are privileging families that have that resource. We have concerns about that, and not doing it every day will lessen those concerns,” continued Smith.
The CDC recently updated their recommendations for schools and parents to better understand and use the test-to-stay method.
The updates reflect their findings from two studies published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that show that the method is effective at keeping students and staff in the classroom, and keeping COVID-19 out of schools.
One study compares K-12 schools in Los Angeles County that implemented test-to-stay practices to schools that used traditional quarantine practices from Sept. 20, 2021 – Oct. 21, 2021.
The findings from the research shows that schools in Los Angeles County which implemented a test-to-stay practice did not have increases in incidences of COVID-19 compared to schools that did not use the test-to-stay strategy.
The second study examines K-12 schools in Lake County, Illinois, showing that the test-to-stay practice implemented during the fall of the 2021 semester allowed secondary transmission to remain low, preserving up to 8,152 in-person learning days for close contacts, and none of the secondary cases appeared to transmit to other school-based contacts.
Many school districts in the U.S. have students returning to the classroom from winter break this week, meaning there are likely to be delays in collecting data on COVID-19 positivity rates in schools and understanding what mitigation strategies schools should implement.
“By the time we get to Monday, which will be our first data dashboard update, it will be the first time we have a solid understanding of the numbers,” said Smith.
While the SMSD doesn’t have an accurate picture yet of COVID-19 cases on campus, the Kansas public health department reported an increase of 1,000 cases in the county only on Monday.
“The county over the weekend saw 2,000 new cases, and [Monday] had another 1,000 come in. That volume overwhelmed their ability to contact trace, and we don’t have the ability to do contact tracing as we know it should be done,” said Smith.
Smith said the school received three disbursements of funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Release Funds, which helped to set up testing, retain school staff and hire additional staff for contact tracing.
Nationwide, 2,100 schools have closed for in-person learning following the winter break for at least part of this week, according to recent findings from Burbio, a company which tracks a data set consisting of over 80,000 K-12 school calendars from all fifty states.
Smith said that school closures in Kansas are not likely to occur as a recent piece of legislation known as HB 2119 would prohibit Kansas students from doing more than 40 days or 240 hours a year of remote learning.
HB 2119 restricts remote student learning and expands aid for private education. The bill aims to reduce district funding for students using remote learning and prohibit school districts from using remote learning to meet the minimum school term unless approved by the State Board of Education for a maximum of 40 days or 240 hours.
Smith said the district will be working with the County Health Department in the coming weeks to monitor for any changes in CDC guidance regarding quarantine times to update the schools COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
“We haven’t changed anything yet, but we have another school board meeting next Monday. What we have said is that we have a county health department we work with, and they are meeting on Thursday to review CDC guidance and make any specific changes they have in regards to that guidance,” said Smith.
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