Kilgore ISD board members discussed plans to make COVID-19 antigen testing more available to students with the help of state funds at Monday’s board meeting.
Superintendent Dr. Andy Baker told board trustees and administrators the state of Texas was seeking a way to distribute federal funding for COVID-19 relief to better benefits ISDs.
“This is something that TEA (Texas Education Administration) has come back with,” Baker said
“The bottom line is the state of Texas still has some of the federal CARES money and that the state of Texas is trying to find ways to help public schools. One of the programs they’ve recently come out with is the ability to offer (COVID-19) antigen tests to districts. If you choose to do this as school district, the state can send you “X” amount of these tests that you can provide for your staff members and that you can choose to make available to your students.”
KISD began its Thanksgiving break Friday, and is out all next week before returning Monday, Nov. 30. A shortage of substitutes, combined with an uptick in illness among staff and some students on quarantine for COVID or out for other illnesses forced the district to go remote at Kilgore High School for a few days last week and this, and at Kilgore Middle School for all of this past week.
As far as testing, Baker noted some Texas ISDs had opted to make some of their additional tests available to members of the community, saying it was up to individual districts how to use their testing supplies.
“With all that said, what we have done up to this point is request permission from TEA to be eligible (for the testing supplies,” he said.
KISD’s Director of Safety and Emergency Management, Charles Presley, told trustees KISD was in a good position to qualify for the funds.
“We’ve met the criteria,” Presley said.
“Basically, we offer on-campus instruction to any student who would like to attend. That was one of the biggest criteria. And then you have to be willing to follow their guidelines ,so if we accepted these tests and we administer them to our students and our staff, we have discretion on that. We can determine how we do that and then we monitor the administration of these tests. We make sure that our staff members will go through some training. For example, our nurses can go through a 30-minute training and then they’ll be certified to administer the tests. There’s to be a coordinator for the district, that would be me, and I’d have to submit the tests that have been administered throughout the week, just like we’re submitting to TEA now. It is a voluntary test. No one can be required, student or teacher, to take the test.”
Presley added these new tests were designed to be less intrusive than the large nasal swabs used earlier during the outbreak. These tests don’t “go to the brain,” he joked, saying these tests can even be self-administered and the whole process takes less than 15 minutes. The forms can then be scanned and submitted to TEA to report test results; however, all students under the age of 18 must have parental consent to receive a test.
Baker mentioned Longview ISD had already taken advantage of these testing supplies when they noticed a spike in COVID-19 cases in their students and staff members.
“We’ve already been given permission to do this, but we haven’t taken any further action,” he said, telling the board he was seeking their guidance before moving forward with the supplies request.
Presley added he had met with Longview ISD staff members and said the program had been helpful for them and had carefully apportioned their testing kits based on local COVID-19 infection data and hospital admittance rates.
“You cannot re-submit for more tests until your stockpile is down to 25%,” he said.
“If we plan to move forward, our tests are sitting there with our names on them in Tyler. We’d have to go pick up the first round so we can go over there, myself and several of our nurses, and they’ll show us the process, how to administer them. And then they will ship them directly here. We would not need a large warehouse to store them, just some cabinets and things like that. They will provide us PPE (personal protective equipment) that will be needed for anyone providing the test.”
Baker also told trustees there were several amendments to KISD’s overall COVID-19 response plan recommended by TEA. These changes take into account the shifting nature of the situation compared to when the plan was first created.
“The CIVUD plan we had in place was created in the spring when we still didn’t have any clue what we were working up against,” Baker said.
Among the changes were recommendations from TEA to consider when an individual on campus can be considered in “close contact” with an infected person on campus. The new language defines close contact as a person being directly exposed, such as being coughed on by an infected person, or being with 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes throughout the day.
Also, the changes recommended by TEA stipulate an individual who tests positive on the school’s antigen tests but who believes the result is a false positive may return to school with a note from a medical professional confirming their non-infected status or obtain two negative PCR test results with 24 hours of one another. Otherwise, a person testing positive must quarantine for two weeks.
Baker said the new recommendations could help some parents whose children were quarantining because of a close contact exposure find a way to get their children back into classes sooner, provided they can produce negative tests or a doctor’s clearance.