News

As more students and staff return to schools, Palo Alto Unified wants to test them regularly for COVID-19

Board of Education to discuss testing expansion proposal Tuesday night

An empty classroom at Fletcher Middle School in Palo Alto on April 3. On Feb. 23, the school board will hear a district proposal to provide regular COVID-19 tests to students and staff. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

"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.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

As more students and staff return to schools, Palo Alto Unified wants to test them regularly for COVID-19

Board of Education to discuss testing expansion proposal Tuesday night

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Feb 23, 2021, 9:09 am

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.

Comments

Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2021 at 1:44 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 23, 2021 at 1:44 pm

Frequent testing works. My daughter attends a university where they test everyone on campus weekly by appointment, so people don't waste time standing in line. If you test positive, you go into quarantine. This, in addition to thoughtful behavior protocols, including masking and maintaining very small circles, facilities adaptations, etc limited the number of Covid cases on campus to 13 last semester while infections raged in nearby communities. (Campus student population is nearly 6,000 students and I don't remember the number of faculty and staff.)

An additional benefit of regular testing is reduction of anxiety. My daughter actually looks forward to being tested each week when she knows for certain that she is healthy and she isn't carrying the infection. I have to say, that reduces my concern for her too. Regular testing is a good thing.


Lizeth
Registered user
Community Center
on Feb 27, 2021 at 3:26 am
Lizeth, Community Center
Registered user
on Feb 27, 2021 at 3:26 am

The plan addresses many of the concerns teachers union leaders have voiced throughout the summer and fall. It boosts funding for schools that reopen, averaging about $450 per student, to cover the costs of safety measures, from testing of staff and students to decontamination, masks and ventilation. It envisions regular testing of students and staff — in schools where outbreaks are widespread, as frequently as once a week regardless of symptoms — with state assistance on tracing any outbreaks.
But even for some of the few public schools that partially returned to in-person elementary level teaching last fall, reopening of additional grades may be off the table. In particular, superintendents are questioning the feasibility of the plan’s aggressive testing requirements.
Since Palo Alto Unified School District welcomed its 2,100 elementary students back to classrooms in a hybrid, partly in-person model in mid-October, Superintendent Don Austin said “we have experienced zero spread” of the virus “from student to adult, adult to student, or student to student.” But Austin said his district no longer plans to expand that to middle and high schools this school year if it must carry out the governor’s school testing regimen Web Link


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.