By Alice Gerard
As of Monday, only one student out of 117 students in the Grand Island School District participating in the “test to stay” program has tested positive for COVID-19, said Grand Island Central School District Superintendent Brian Graham.
“We are the only school district in Erie County selected to participate in this pilot and, of course, it’s in partnership with the Erie County Department of Health,” Graham explained at the Grand Island Central School District Board of Education meeting held at Kaegebein Elementary School. “The ‘test to stay’ strategy is designed to significantly reduce the number of students who are excluded from school, due to being identified as a close contact to someone who is COVID-19 positive in school. The ‘test to stay’ program allows for a student who is a close contact to be tested daily before school, and, if the test is negative, the student would be allowed to attend school that day.”
The “test to stay” program does not permit students to participate in sports or extracurricular activities until their quarantine period has expired. According to a “Revised Updated Testing and Quarantine Supplemental Information” for all elementary and secondary schools, issued by the New York State Department of Health on Nov. 24, students participating in the “test to stay” program are permitted to attend school, but are “quarantined outside of school instruction/academic periods (on weekends/holidays when the seven-day ‘test to stay’ period is still active.”
Students who are in the “test to stay” period are not to participate in community activities or extracurricular activities, including “clubs, sports, arts/performance activities, etc.” If the exposed student “develops symptoms,” that student “must be excluded from school per current school guidance,” according to state health department policy.
“This pilot program is only for the school day. If a child is in ‘test to stay,’ and they are also participating in a sport or an extracurricular activity, it ends up by being a modified quarantine for them. They are able to go to school if they’re negative, but they still go home and continue their quarantine outside of school,” Graham said, noting the program is an “opt-in program.” He said many parents are “thrilled to have this opportunity. Some parents may continue to have their children quarantined, and some families are considering to be vaccinated.”
While the “test to stay” program is a pilot program in Erie County that involves one school district, Grand Island, in Monroe County, all of the school districts – with the exception of the Rochester City Schools – are participating in the “test to stay” program.
“I spoke to the superintendent of the Rush-Henrietta School District,” Graham said. “They are about a week ahead of us. They have conducted 500 tests, and there were 11 positive cases that they have identified. We believe that 98% of the students who are part of a quarantine turn out to be healthy during that time. Right now, we hope that Erie County will look at the data from Grand Island, but also consider the data from Monroe County when they make the decision on whether this should grow and continue, outside of a pilot.”
Excluding students in the “test to stay” program from sports and extracurricular activities was a concern to one of the parents who spoke at the school board’s public comment time.
Jen Merica stated, “The ‘test to stay’ program is shameful. Tell me how it is OK that a student who has tested negative can attend class but cannot attend their sports or activities? That is not science. That is punishment and discrimination, based on a student’s medical background. When you introduce discrimination within the school walls, you create bullying and you create a hostile environment. There is no justification for a school for excluding children who have proven to be healthy from extracurricular activities. Because we know that activities are equally important for children’s development. I demand that you implement policies that are consistent, equitable, fair, and appropriate to all students, because discrimination should not be tolerated.”