Capital Region

With thousands of at-home kits in hand, local school districts seek to keep students in class

A box of COVID rapid at-home testing kits are shown in this photo taken Jan. 6.
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A box of COVID rapid at-home testing kits are shown in this photo taken Jan. 6.

After receiving thousands of additional at-home COVID-19 testing kits this week, local school districts have varying plans on how to distribute the tests as hundreds of students throughout the region continue to miss class each day due to the surging virus. 

The state distributed thousands of the testing kits to local schools this past week on top of the thousands already received by districts earlier this month. Each kit contains two rapid tests, which can provide results in as little as 15 minutes.

At Shenendehowa Central School District, 8,000 of the initial 10,000 kits the district received last week have been distributed. Each of the roughly 9,200 students enrolled in the district is entitled to receive one kit, according to Lindsay Valenti, a district spokeswoman, who noted parents can still arrange to pick up a kit at the district office.

The school district received an additional 4,500 test kits Wednesday, which Valenti said will be distributed to school nurses for diagnostic testing of students and faculty members.

Kits are also being used within the district’s athletic department for “surveillance and diagnostic testing of student-athletes to keep them competing,” Valenti said.

The additional kits are part of the more than 5.4 million promised to districts across the state by Gov. Kathy Hochul as part of a multi-prong effort to keep schools open amid a crush of COVID cases brought on by the highly infectious omicron variant. The plan also calls for masking and increasing vaccination efforts.

New guidelines adopted by the state’s Department of Health, in accordance to policy laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allow students to return to the classroom after testing positive for the virus within five days if they can produce two negative over-the-counter rapid COVID tests in a 36-hour period.

Returning students must wear a well-fitting mask for the next five days and those still experiencing symptoms must remain in quarantine, according to the policy.

Schenectady County, earlier this month, opened a special testing facility with Ellis Hospital to provide testing to students, their families and school staff in an effort to return students to school quicker.

The site, which can accommodate up to 150 tests each day, has administered 1,036 tests as of Wednesday, according to the county.

Schools have been hit hard by the virus, with some local districts pivoting to remote learning or canceling classes due to high absenteeism among faculty and staff. Hundreds of students have also missed class because of mandatory quarantines after testing positive or being exposed to the virus.

At Shenendehowa, 1,299 students have tested positive for the virus since classes began last September, with a bulk of cases coming in the two weeks following winter break, according to state data.

On Wednesday, the district reported 94 individuals associated with district schools tested positive for the virus, according to a notification on its website.

In an effort to return students to classes faster, Saratoga County recently adopted a “test to stay” policy, allowing students who have been exposed to the virus to remain in class if they don’t experience symptoms and test negative for the virus.

Meanwhile, at Mohonasen Central School District, a testing kit was made available to each student through a pair of distribution events hosted last week after the district received an allotment of 3,700 tests from the state. Faculty members were also received testing kits through a separate allotment of 450 kits provided by the state’s Department of Health, according to Superintendent Shannon Shine.

Shine, in an email, said the district had over 600 kits following the distribution events, which he sent to schools throughout the district to be distributed “at will” to any parent or faculty member to help them remain at work or in class. He added the district received an additional 1,300 test kits this week, which will be used for similar purposes. 

“After both of these distributions we had over 600 tests left, so I had them distributed to buildings to distribute ‘at will’ for any employee or parent wanting to use them to help remain at work/school,” Shine said. “Similarly, with the most recent batch I’ve made them available to parents and employees upon request whenever someone is symptomatic.”

The district, meanwhile, has had 417 students and faculty members test positive for the virus since the start of the school year, including 216 between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12, according to state data.

Niskayuna Central School District has similar plans for additional tests received this week, though how the kits will be distributed has yet to be finalized, according to Matt Leon, a district spokesman.

The district received 3,800 tests from the state last week, which were distributed to families. A total of 510 cases have been reported within the district since classes began this school year, including 450 students, according to state data.

After receiving an additional shipment this week, the district currently has around 4,000 kits on hand, Leon said.

“We are planning to distribute them to the schools and families, and are currently working on the plan to make the best use of the tests to protect health and safety and maximize in-person learning,” he said. “We will communicate directly with families about this.”
The Schenectady City School District, meanwhile, is planning to send the additional 4,300 test kits received this week to local schools to be distributed to students who test positive or are exposed while supplies last, according to a letter posted to the district’s website from Superintendent Anibal Soler.
The district, which has reported 1,031 total positives this school year, including 795 students, according to state data, distributed a kit to each elementary student last week and more than 1,400 to secondary students during a distribution event on Jan. 5.
Karen Corona, a spokeswoman for the district, said efforts to distribute the tests will continue in order to keep students in school.
“We have continued to pass out kits to those families in secondary who didn’t pick one up on January 5 and to send a kit home with students who present as symptomatic at school, to use at home and facilitate a quicker return to school,” she said in an email.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

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