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By Alice E. Gerard
Grand Island Central School District Superintendent Brian Graham announced at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Education that the Grand Island School District has been selected by Erie County to be the only district to pilot a “test to stay” strategy.
“A ‘test to stay’ strategy is designed to significantly reduce the number of students who have been excluded from school because they have been identified as a close contact of somebody who is positive” with coronavirus, Graham explained. “A ‘test to stay’ program would allow for students who have been identified as close contacts to be tested daily before school. If the student is negative after being given a rapid antigen test, the student would be allowed to be here in school each day.”
When board member Nicole Novak asked if the “test to stay” strategy permitted the students in the program to stay after school for extracurricular activities, Graham said, “Right now, this strategy is just for students to return to school, not to engage in after-school activities. It’s really focused on the continuity of learning for kids. In the future, if it’s successful, they may allow more flexibility with that.”
The Board of Education, at its Nov. 8 meeting, “adopted a resolution to encourage the Erie County Board of Health to move forward with a ‘test to stay’ strategy.” Grand Island was the first school district that adopted such a resolution. Since then, other school districts have looked at the Grand Island resolution and have adopted “similar, if not word-for-word resolutions” concerning the strategy, Graham said.
The selection of Grand Island to pilot the “test to stay” strategy comes shortly after an announcement by Erie County of a change in the length of time that students who are identified as close contacts would have to be quarantined, Graham said.
“Late last week, Erie County indicated that students who are identified as close contacts no longer have to be quarantined for the entire period if they receive a negative test on day five or after, and if the parent completes a form and submits it to the school district,” approximately three days after the negative test, he noted. “This form, along with a negative test, will allow someone who is asymptomatic and currently quarantined to return to school three days earlier than the current quarantine period.
Graham said the form was emailed to all of the families in the Grand Island School District last week. It is also available at the school district’s website, at https://www.grandislandschools.org/cms/lib/NY02214110/Centricity/Domain/8/QuarantineAffirmationECDOH.pdf.
Graham reported he is part of a team to look at the next steps for the “test to stay” program.
“Cheryl Cardone (assistant superintendent of pupil personnel services) and I met with Dr. Gale Burstein and Dr. Lauren Nicholas of the Erie County Department of Health; along with Dr. Lynn Fusco of Erie 1 BOCES and Dr. David O’Rourke of Erie 2 BOCES; and Michael Cornell, superintendent of the Hamburg School District; as well as the head of the Erie Niagara School Superintendents Association. They really do seem excited to learn how this can be scaled beyond Grand Island to other districts,” Graham said.
Before the program can be implemented on Grand Island, there are issues that need to be resolved.
Graham said, “There are a lot of logistics to make this work. A significant amount of logistics. The number of students per school who are currently identified as close contacts range between 30 to 50 kids. So, to have ‘test to stay’ strategy for 30 to 50 kids each day at different schools is significant. It requires tests to be available, not just for us but, eventually, for more districts, if this is deemed to be a successful pilot. The personnel need to be available to administer the tests, as well as do the subsequent data reporting and the data bases. We are fortunate to begin these conversations with Erie County. Beyond that, I am excited that the board has given me permission to work with an outside agency to move forward with this strategy here in the district.”
Graham said the goal is to start the program early in December, once the logistical details can be worked out: “If all goes well, we hope to start on Dec. 1. It will be wonderful if we can help asymptomatic students return to school when, otherwise, they would be quarantined.”