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Education

'Test To Stay' Is Back For Schools, But Not Everyone Is On Board

A doctor takes a cotton swab coronavirus test from child nose to analyse if positive for covid-19.
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Five schools in Utah have already met the threshold for "Test to Stay," when a school is required to test students for COVID-19 before they return to school.

About a month into the school year, five Utah K-12 schools have reached the threshold to implement Test to Stay. That’s the requirement to screen all students for COVID-19 if a certain number of them contract the virus over a 14-day period. The threshold is 2% at a school with a population of 1,500 or more students, or 30 students in schools with a population below 1,500.

Under a state law passed earlier this year, schools are required to get parental consent to test students. Parents can opt out, but their child is assumed positive and has to quarantine for 10 days.

The protocol has received pushback from Utah Parents United, a group that has mobilized parents against mask mandates and Critical Race Theory in schools. It argues that students cannot be denied in-person instruction for refusing COVID-19 testing, the same basis of a recent lawsuit against the state for prohibiting schools from issuing mask mandates.

Rumblings on social media about parents flaunting the rules prompted concerns about how schools would enforce the policy, but in several districts that have had to implement Test to Stay this year, it doesn’t appear to have been an issue.

At Tooele High School, about 10% of parents opted out, said Communications Director Marie Denson. She said administrators wondered whether they’d see any return to school the following Monday, but no one did.

“We didn't have any issues,” Denson said. “We haven't had anyone that was supposed to quarantine come back to school and anyone who wasn't able to do the test of the event, they just went to another location and brought their test results in. So we've been really lucky.”

In the Davis School District, two schools have hit the Test to Stay threshold so far, with another five nearing the mark.

Communications Director Christopher Williams said the vast majority of parents consented to have their kids tested, which he partly attributes to them having the option to accompany their kids to observe the process. They’re also able to test their kids tested through their family doctor or source of their choosing.

About 15 parents are opting out of testing at Mountain Crest High School, which is holding a Test to Stay event Wednesday, said Cache County School District Public Information officer Tim Smith. Similar to nearly every other aspect of COVID-19 in schools, he said the program has been met with criticism. But most issues have been handled amicably, and he anticipates the same happening with this event.

“We went through this with masks last year when we had a mask mandate in place,” Smith said. “I think in almost every case, we can reach a solution with the parent and the student as we sit down and communicate and talk through that.”

Maggie Graul, who oversees K-12 COVID-19 testing for the Utah Department of Health, said it’s good news that the testing events so far have seen high levels of cooperation and limited issues. It was also expected that outbreaks would occur around this time.

Still, she said while health officials expected to see outbreaks around this time, it’s concerning that the overall case counts are higher this year compared to last and schools have fewer mitigation strategies in place.

Utah schools have had over 6,000 COVID-19 cases already this year, which is more than twice the number at this time last year and still likely an undercount.

“We are working very diligently to try and provide additional testing options that are better at confirming positive cases and are a little bit more sensitive,” she said. “But as far as the logistics for having to test a large number of students at one point in time, there are some really great things with those [rapid] tests because they are efficient and provide results very quickly.”

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