A COVID-19 testing program used since August in the Eudora school district aims to reduce COVID-19 quarantines. Students and staff exposed to a positive case can “test out” of quarantine as long as they don’t have symptoms and continue to test negative for the virus.
Mark Dodge, spokesperson for Eudora Public Schools, said an advantage of the plan was that it helps students and staff stay in schools as much as possible — and with no financial cost to the district for testing supplies.
“We are a ‘test-to-stay’ district and do not quarantine students due to close contact,” Dodge said in an email. “Our Stay to Learn and Play plan allows us to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, while working to keep students and staff in school and at work.”
Here’s how it works: Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 isolates for 10 days. Meanwhile, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health helps school staff identify close contacts with the positive case. Without symptoms, a close contact who has already had the infection can avoid quarantine with proof of a positive PCR or antigen test in the last six months.
Dodge said other close contacts proceed as follows:
- If vaccinated, they’ll take a rapid antigen test — which takes 15 minutes to process — at their school on days 3 and 7 while monitoring for symptoms. No mask is required for those 12 and older.
- If unvaccinated, they’ll take a rapid antigen test — which takes 15 minutes to process — daily for seven days at their school. The individual must wear a mask. They may also choose to stay home for 10 days after exposure if they don’t want to participate in daily testing.
Funded with $74 million in federal grants, the Kansas K-12 Stay Positive Test Negative Initiative is a partnership with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. KDHE project specialists evaluate proposals by school districts that want to use the program. Then they provide support and guidance with budgets and implementation plans to schools who voluntarily participate.
While many Kansas school districts struggle to fill positions and find substitutes, parents hope their children can safely remain in school. The testing program in Eudora schools addresses those concerns but does add more responsibilities to the district’s healthcare staff.
Dodge said the school district staff had met the challenge, though. “Our team of nurses does an amazing job of working together and supporting one another. Additionally, each building has staff (teachers, administrators, and classified) who step in to help with testing when needed.”
Dodge said he couldn’t quantify how many people had avoided quarantine by testing out because the district doesn’t track that data. Outside of those identified as close contacts, masks remain optional in Eudora schools for those 12 and older. Dodge said masks are optional for all staff but “strongly recommended” for those who are unvaccinated.
The school board has also approved a second phase for COVID-19 mitigation that kicks in when a school building experiences higher than 2% active cases during a 14-day period. A Douglas County health order mandates that children ages 2 to 11 wear masks inside public spaces, with some exceptions. That order could be extended through December, depending on how the Douglas County Commission votes at its Wednesday meeting.
Lawrence school district weighs testing strategies
The mission of teaching and learning has been forced to compete with the overwhelming effects the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on students and their families, teachers, staff, administrators and school boards.
At the Sept. 13 Lawrence school board meeting, Superintendent Anthony Lewis told the board the district would continue evaluating whether it would implement KDHE’s Test to Learn program. Three testing strategies to test out of quarantines were approved and recommended in updated guidelines for quarantine and isolation in Douglas County schools. The guidelines were announced Sept. 10 by LDCPH with the caveat that they are not required.
Lewis said the district would “continue to process” the recent updates for quarantine and isolation in Douglas County schools. Currently, the district’s COVID-19 procedures call for any unvaccinated close contact exposed to a positive case to undergo quarantine.
Lewis acknowledged board members’ concerns that quarantines and limits on remote learning imposed by the Kansas Legislature could interfere with some students’ learning. He said administrators continue to look at options for teaching students in quarantine. “If students are not inside classrooms with teachers it can be difficult for them to keep up,” Lewis said.
LDCPH Director Dan Partridge said in an email that the updated guidance gives schools options.
“Schools have discretion over in-school quarantine because they have to manage their operations to comply with the guidance,” he said. “Each situation and school are unique and what I would say is that the public should not view inconsistencies in quarantine as lack of compliance with public health guidance. Rather each school is choosing their own path to compliance.”
As of Monday, Lawrence Public Schools reported 257 staff and students in quarantine.
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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.