Burlington Public Schools has started the Test and Stay program but have hit some early snags in rolling it out, school administration told the School Committee on Tuesday.
Test and Stay is a new program using rapid testing to help keep more students in the building. It allows any asymptomatic student or faculty member identified as a close contact to a person who tested positive for COVID to remain in school if they get a rapid test in the morning and it comes out negative. Students must test negative five days in a row before they are out of the program. The program only applies to students or faculty members who are contact traced to a case in the school and does not apply for any close contact situation that happens in the community.
The state has contracted CIC Health, a testing company, to carry out the tests as students in the program arrive at school. The results usually take 15 minutes and if they are negative the student can head to class.
Assistant Superintendent Patrick Larkin said one of the issues is that CIC Health, which is working with all schools in Massachusetts who have enrolled in Test and Stay, appears to be overwhelmed.
“We haven’t had reliable testers show up from the company contracted by the state,” he said. “We did have students who were delayed longer than we liked because we were waiting for testers to show.”
Larkin did say Burlington will soon have four dedicated testers who are currently working through their training to conduct the tests that he hopes will be available soon. He said they will be available for three hours everyday to support Test and Stay and help with contact tracing.
He also said that despite requesting it multiple times, the district has not been granted access to the CIC database of students whose parents have consented to them being in the program. This has made coordinating the program difficult.
“There’s some frustration from our standpoint,” he said. “We’re just asking that the frustration that parents could end up feeling – that they don’t take it out on school staff because we’re doing the best we can with the parameters that have been put on us by an outside entity.”
Superintendent Eric Conti said they are also discussing expanding Test and Stay to students who are showing symptoms of being ill. He said this would help rule out COVID and perhaps allow students with things like allergies to remain in school even if they are showing signs of sickness.
“If a student has the sniffles and a history of allergies then, with the nurse’s discretion, they could use the test and not automatically be sent home,” he said.
Members of the committee said that even if the program had some challenges they were glad the administration was continuing to try to make it work. The important thing, they said, was to keep students in school as much as possible. Member Christine Monaco also thanked the school nurses for taking on the extra responsibilities associated with the program.
“With kids missing so much time it’s important we keep them in school,” she said. “If a kid has a headache and the nurse feels they need a COVID test to stay in school then that’s great we should give the test. I know it’s a lot for the nurses to have to judge all these situations but after kids missing so much school I appreciate them being willing to do this and keep our kids in school.”