As the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rolls out the statewide COVID-19 testing program in schools, Summit School District is eager to get the program up and running locally.
But given the extensive logistics that still need to be worked out, it’s taken some time to get off the ground. Interim Superintendent Roy Crawford said he has a few concerns about certain aspects of the program, but he thinks the pros will outweigh the cons.
One concern Crawford has is that families will be coming to the district with questions about parts of the program it doesn’t control, such as the online portal where families can sign up and get test results. He said he wants to make sure that folks will have assistance in navigating the portal, especially the district’s Spanish-speaking families, but the district hasn’t seen what it looks like yet.
“Until we see the actual portal and know exactly what it is they want, it’s hard for us to plan what we should be doing in advance and how many people we’re going to need (to keep) disruptions to a minimum,” Crawford said.
Crawford noted other concerns, as well, such as getting kids from their classrooms to the testing sites without major impacts to their academic routine and making sure the kids have everything they need on the day of testing.
Crawford said he’s heard from some parents who are anxious to get the testing started as soon as possible as well as others who are concerned about interruptions to academics.
“We’re hoping that parents will just be patient with the whole process,” Crawford said. “It adds another level of mitigation for us and for the community along with all the other things we’ve done to try and keep cases down, and we’re just hoping parents will be patient as we sort this out.”
Families are able to opt in or out of the program at any time, meaning the list of kids getting tested one week might not be the same as those getting tested the next.
Gabi Johnston, spokesperson for the Department of Public Health and Environment, said there are 515 schools fully enrolled in the program as of Friday, Oct. 8. The department has eight core staff members focused on the program to work with testing vendors and coordinate logistics with schools.
Before getting the program up and running, each district must authorize its schools to complete a memorandum of understanding with the department. The schools must also obtain parent consent forms and determine where and how often testing will be conducted. The goal is to minimize any interruptions to learning.
“We are committed to working with interested schools to provide testing resources quickly,” Johnston said in an email. “ … We are working closely with our vendors to ensure they are getting school testing underway in a time-efficient manner.”
Summit School District has averaged about 13 positive COVID-19 cases per week since the start of the school year, but the district saw its highest number of cases last week after an outbreak at Summit Middle School. According to the district’s weekly case update, there were 21 cases among staff and students across the district.
District Physical Health Coordinator Elizabeth Edgar said the state’s health department has touted serial testing in schools as one of the best strategies for mitigating the virus’s spread. Edgar said testing vendors are just now getting in contact with the district’s school principals to discuss logistics.
“Doing school in the context of a pandemic is challenging, so there are these whole new layers of systems and best practices that are new for us and … the state,” Edgar said. “So I think it just takes time to figure it out.”
Steamboat Springs School District just got the program running in its first school last week, and Superintendent Brad Meeks said after working through a few bumps it ran smoothly. Meeks said 94 staff and students were tested on the first day of the program. He said it was a slow process and that most of the delays came from communicating who was responsible for what, but he has confidence now that it’s up and running.
Crawford said he would have liked to have more specific details earlier on about what the district would need to do for the program. This includes information on the portal, what info kids will need to provide when getting tested and what parent permission forms look like in English and Spanish.
Edgar said even though there isn’t in-school testing yet, the district has asked folks to get tested if they were potentially exposed or showing symptoms. She said she hopes in-school testing will make the process easier for families.
“It will give us data that we don’t currently have,” Edgar said. “It would give us a sense of how much COVID is out there.”
Edgar said as soon as the district has more information about the program getting started it will communicate that with the community, and she encouraged parents to “stay tuned.”