How schools are rolling out on-site COVID testing

25 of its 780 students at Ashland High School had tested positive since the holidays
By: | January 13, 2021
The state of Massachusetts conducted COVID testing on more than 400 students, staff and parents at Ashland High School on Monday.The state of Massachusetts conducted COVID testing on more than 400 students, staff and parents at Ashland High School on Monday.

High COVID positivity rates in its high school and in a Massachusetts community drove Ashland Public Schools leaders to seek the state’s help to expand testing.

The district in Boston’s outermost suburbs is hoping to resume hybrid instruction in its high school by Jan. 19. Shortly after the new year, 25 of its 780 high school students had tested positive, Superintendent James Adams says.

“We noticed a couple of weeks ago, after Thanksgiving and after the winter holiday break, that our numbers were exploding,” Adams says.

On Jan. 11, the state conducted testing at Ashland High Schoolwhich is still in full online learning mode—in an effort to identify asymptomatic cases, Adama saus. About 474 students, staff and parents received free PCR tests.

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The state of Massachusetts announced this week that it would begin conducting free pool testing over the next six weeks at any districts that want to participate.

“One thing that all superintendents and school districts across the Commonwealth and the country have been begging for is more testing and consistent testing,” Adams says. “If we’re to open schools and keep them open, we need faculty, staff and students feel safe and healthy, and testing is the only way we can assure that.”

Regular testing in schools is crucial in the coming months but schools and state will need substantial financial assistance to make it happen, says Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

Domenech this week discussed reopening schools in a meeting with Biden’s transition team, which has set a goal of bringing students back to classrooms during the new president’s first 100 days.

Schools would surely need additional staff to staff all students and employees, to track results, respond when there someone tests positive and enact quarantine procedures, he says.

School would also have to determine what to do when families object to testing.

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And though it appears teachers will soon become eligible for the COVID vaccine, district leaders may also face the prospect of teachers refusing the vaccine, he adds.

A vaccine for students under age 16 will not be available until the fall at the earliest, he says.

“Right now, certainly no one should expect that part of the reopening plan for the first 100 days will include students being vaccinated,” Domenech says.