By Curt Peterson
Windsor Central Unified Union School District (WCSD) Superintendent Sherry Sousa told the Mountain Times she understands the rationale behind the Agency of Education’s abandonment of the in-school “Test to Stay” program this week.
“Surveillance testing didn’t address the Omicron proliferation,” she said. “A few weeks ago 500 tests netted only four positive cases. It just wasn’t working.”
The new protocol, in effect since Jan. 19, is to distribute antigen rapid tests to the school districts for students’ families to use at home.
If a student tests positive, all students in his or her class are designated “presumptive contacts.” For the next five days families of unvaccinated students must test their student first thing in the morning and achieve a “negative” result before attending school that day.
Vaccinated presumptive contacts can return to school without testing for three days, but then require negative test results in days four and five in order to attend class.
But the state guidance states: “Schools should not monitor compliance of kit pick up or use of kits.”
State officials say if their district runs out of tests necessary to follow the new guidance, parents should take responsibility for obtaining tests elsewhere.
Store-bought tests are not free (but can be reimbursed by insurance) but also are hard to find in stock.
Sousa said the state underestimated how many tests the new protocol would require — WCSD received half of what they ordered and thought the second half would arrive this week, in time to replenish the supply. But the second shipment didn’t arrive.
“We discovered the misunderstanding and re-ordered a larger amount so we can stock up for future use,” Sousa said. “We hope the new order will arrive soon.”
To make up for the deficiency, the town of Killington stepped up to provide 125 rapid tests to Killington Elementary School on Monday, Jan. 24. Prior to that Bob and Whit Montgomery (father and son owner of the Killington Group and the chief of police, respectively) donated 50 tests to the Pre-K, which they were subsequently required to use that same week when a positive case was identified and the school ran out of tests. The Select Board hopes to secure hundreds more tests for the school and possibly district in the weeks to come.
Parents are asked to report positive test results to the district. The AoE was collecting test result data and maintained a public access list, but will no longer do so.
Sousa said WCSD’s website dashboard shows a daily report of positive tests, a system inspired by the Springfield, Vermont district’s similar arrangement. The WCSD scoreboard was developed with a lot of effort by Raphael Adamek, instructional technology director, and Katie Burke, Covid-19 coordinator.
“It’s important to be transparent about what’s going on regarding Covid in the schools,” Sousa said. “It builds trust, enhances our relationship with our parents, and informs families with no direct connection to the district. And it also dispels inaccurate rumors that might otherwise have the opposite effect.”
According to the WCSD daily report, as of Jan. 21 there have been 132 positive student cases during the 2021-2022 school year, 67 in the latest 14 days, and 21 in the last seven days. There are approximately 900 students in the district.
Districts are handling the data in various ways.
Dr. David Baker, superintendent of Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU) said his district maintains a record of positive tests internally.
“The reporting is all self-reporting now. Our parents are good about doing it,” Dr. Baker said.
The most recent unofficial report was 40 new cases, out of about 500 students.