With Palo Alto Unified gearing up to bring more students and teachers back to campuses this spring, district leadership is looking to expand COVID-19 testing to include any symptomatic and asymptomatic students, teachers and staff members.
The school board will discuss the proposal Tuesday night. Staff are recommending that all students, faculty and staff who are regularly on campus participate in diagnostic and surveillance screening on a "regular cadence" starting the week of March 1. All employees working in-person will be required to get tested at least every other week and within five days of returning from out-of-town travel. All students in grades K-5 attending school in person will be encouraged to get tested at the same frequency. Secondary students at campuses in person will be advised to get tested on a weekly basis.
"Though the evidence continues to evolve, we have learned from examples of what works and what does not work since reopening schools. We believe expanding testing will position PAUSD to further reduce the chances of transmission on our campuses," a staff report states.
The district currently offers on-site testing through Stanford Health Care only to employees twice a month. In January, Stanford saw a spike in COVID-19 testing demand across the area and the district wasn't able to offer testing to any employees who hadn't already used the service.
Because of this, the district is looking to partner with a new testing service: Predicine Inc., a Hayward cancer research company that also now offers a quick polymerase chain reaction test authorized by the Food and Drug Administration with a 24- to 48-hour result turnaround time as well as a self-administered take-home test kit. The testing would be free for students and staff.
"This partnership will allow convenient testing with a quick result turnaround at no direct cost to employees or families," the report states.
Since August, 21 students and 31 staff members who are at schools in person have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the district's online dashboard.
Nearly 60% of sixth graders will be going back to school for hybrid learning on March 2. Seventh and eighth graders as well as high schoolers will be able to Zoom from their classrooms no earlier than March 1 if they choose, and no less than five days after Santa Clara County has moved to and stayed in the red tier for five consecutive days. Students will be divided into two groups and assigned two days a week to be on campus. About 120 high school students are already on campuses for small group cohorts.
More than 2,100 elementary students are now attending hybrid school in person. And as of this week, three small classes at Addison and Hoover elementary schools are piloting a full return to school five days a week.
"Given the success of our first week, we should expect slow growth of pilots in the next few weeks," Superintendent Don Austin wrote in his weekly update. "This is a first step for a full return in the fall for all students."
In other business Tuesday, the school board will consider forming a board oversight committee focused on equity to "solve the issue created by large unfocused equity teams," discuss the 2020-21 second interim budget report; and hear a report on student wellbeing, among other items.
The virtual meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. View the full agenda here.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.