With the return of in-person learning this fall, administrators and parents have butted heads over the implementation of COVID-19 batch testing.
A group of Northshore School District parents and grandparents spoke in opposition of the opt-out format of batch testing during public comment at a school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 27.
According to the NSD website, students in grades K-12 are tested weekly through a batch process that is “easy and minimally invasive.” With adult supervision, students administer the test themselves by inserting a small swab in the front of the nose. Parents and guardians may choose to opt out of the regular COVID-19 testing by filling out a form on the district’s website.
JoAnn Tolentino, the grandmother of an 8-year-old NSD student, said that her granddaughter’s parents opted out of the voluntary batch testing. However, on Sept. 21, the young student unknowingly swabbed herself for a COVID-19 test.
“I’m kindly demanding that you open up an investigation by this board and look into every opt-out situation and guarantee that no further medical procedures on underaged minors are illegally performed in the schools, recognizing that this is in direct opposition of expressed opt-out by the parent,” she said.
The granddaughter told her parents two days after the test occurred, Tolentino said.
“I’m demanding total transparency,” she said. “What is the process for who receives these opt-out forms? Where do they go? Why are the teachers apparently uninformed?”
NSD Superintendent Michelle Reid said about 3,500 students had opted out of weekly COVID-19 testing, equaling 14.6% of all district students, as of Sept. 30. She said similar numbers were reflected for staff testing.
She explained during a news update that batch testing is meant to reduce the amount of time students quarantine at home.
“It’s going to enable us to maintain this layer of protection to keep our students and staff safe and healthy as well as our schools open and our activities, music programs (and) theatre running smoothly,” Reid said.
According to NSD Deputy Superintendent Duggan Harman, students are notified when they happen to be in a positive batch. Vaccinated students and staff members do not have to quarantine, he said. However, a negative confirmatory test will be required to return to the classroom.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 is required to quarantine, he noted. If a student is not vaccinated, they must remain in quarantine until they return a negative confirmatory test result, he said. Test results will be available between 24 to 36 hours later.
Denise Thoreson, a parent to three NSD students, also expressed concern about batch testing.
“I think as a board you owe an explanation to the 23,000 students that you represent and to the parents as to why you feel this is a valid program to be a part of,” Thoreson said. “There are clear distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated… It shouldn’t be a penalty to those who choose not to be vaccinated.”
The district’s COVID-19 dashboard reports the number of positive tests and quarantines for each school building. According to the website, it is updated daily by 9 a.m.
NSD contracted with CIC Health to provide the testing supplies, the website states. Schools run on a testing schedule from Monday to Wednesday. For the full schedule, visit nsd.org/covid19/testing.
After the first two days of batch testing, 1,291 batches were processed, which equated to more than 12,000 students and staff members, Harman said. Nine of the batches were considered positive, resulting in a 0.69% positivity rate.
“If those positive cases in the 0.69% had gone undetected, they have the potential to ripple and infect others,” Reid said, “which would have otherwise forced us to close down classrooms or a school.”
As of Oct. 5, the dashboard shows 407 students and staff members were quarantined due to positive batch testing. Meanwhile, a total of 70 people tested positive in the last 14 days, and 24 people returned positive results in the last seven days, according to the dashboard.
Harman said the district is providing free PCR tests three days a week at Pop Keeney Stadium in Bothell.
“We’re working with the testing company to put more resources into it because the wait time was unacceptable [on the first day],” Harman said.