Newton schools to use testing protocol to keep quarantined students in schools

Chad Frey
The Kansan
A new protocol for COVID-19 contacts can keep children in school in Newton USD 373 — if they test negative daily using a nasal swab test.

Last school year 2,666 Newton USD 373 students were a close contact to COVID-19 patients  — and those students needed to serve quarantine as a result. 

This year, the quarantine could look much different — meaning with testing, mask wearing and social distancing the quarantine might be served in school under a protocol created by the Harvey County Health Department and adopted  Aug. 23 by the Newton USD 373 Board of Education,  

"I don't love this, but it is our only option," said Mallory Morton, president of the board of education."... We are in an absolutely terrible, no win situation with our kids. ... I have a problem with this, but my job up here is to provide an educational opportunity for our kids."

The measure passed on a split vote, with no member voicing overt support of the measure. 

"We are backed into a corner," Morton said. 

The board expressed a desire to revisit the protocols in consultation with the Harvey County Health Department to discuss options. 

Of those more than 2,600 quarantined students, 10 students ended up COVID-19 positive. The district currently has 45 students quarantined, with six positive cases. Fred Van Ranken, superintendent of schools, said those 45 students could return to buildings shortly. 

The protocol, created by the Harvey County Health Department, requires not only parental approval but also a contract signed for parental support of the protocol. 

"All of this is with the option of the parents," said Fred Van Ranken, superintendent of schools. 

The requirements for a student to stay in school, if identified as a close contact by the Harvey County Health Department, state a student must be tested every day when they arrive at school. 

The initial draft of the parental contract required parents to assist with the testing, including restraining their child if need be to perform the test. The language of that clause was changed to reflect parents must assist with testing. 

"The test will take about 15 minutes," Van Ranken said. 

That test will be a nasal swab test. If the student tests negative, they can stay at school — if they wear a facial covering all day and observe social distancing at all times. If a student tests positive, parents must take their children out of the building. 

Maize is discontinuing a similar program because the district was overwhelmed with testing — with tests lasting until noon each day. 

Law changes by the state Legislature have hamstrung the district in the area of online education — which the district used last year. Some students only entered classrooms for state assessment testing. In addition, for some periods the school buildings were closed to all students. 

The legislature, however, placed limits on how many hours of online only instruction each student can be given during the school year.  

"With the legislation, remote learning is not an option. We can have 40 hours of online, or 240 hours with the permission of the state board and an approval from (the Newton BOE)," Van Ranken said. 

The 40 hour limit would not allow the district to provide online instruction to a student for one full quarantine period. 

In related COVID news,the district received a grant from the KDHE for Covid protocols which will include additional stipends for Covid testing for nurses ($2,000) and covering of the majority of the additional nurse that was added last year who serves as the Covid Coordinator. In addition, they will be utilized for the testing program. The grant award will be $141,027.

COVID “Stay to learn” testing protocol

1. Student is identified as a contact by Harvey County Health Department

2. Building nurse and attendance are notified by coordinator that student is a contact

3. Parent signs “stay to learn” contract

4. Attendance and student’s teachers are notified by the building nurse that the student will be participating in daily COVID testing first thing each morning.

5. There will not be a special attendance code. Each building will work with their staff to assure that staff are aware of which students are involved.

6. The student will go to the nurse’s office first thing each morning of their quarantine for a rapid COVID test.

7. Per HCHD the quarantine for “stay to learn” will be a minimum of 10 days, 14 days for variants of concern (VOC). There will not be an option to test out early.

8. If the student tests negative in the morning, they will be allowed to stay at school wearing a mask and maintaining 6 feet of distance from others.

9. If the student tests positive, they will be sent home and contact tracing will be conducted.

COVID “stay to learn” contract

Date: _____________________

____________________________ has been identified by the Harvey County Health Department as the contact of a positive COVID case. USD #373 has implemented the modified quarantine guidelines.

These guidelines allow students to attend school when they have been identified as a contact, if they test negative at school for COVID each morning of their quarantine.

The parent will:

1. Be available to assist with the nasal swab rapid testing

2. Be available to take the student home if they test positive in the morning at school

The student will:

1. Report to the nurse’s office first thing every morning of their quarantine.

2. Cooperate with nasal swab rapid COVID testing

3. Wear a mask while at school during their designated quarantine period

4. Maintain 6 feet distance from others while at school

The school will:

1. Notify all building staff with a need to know of the students participating in “stay to learn”

2. Ensure that the student is following the “stay to learn” guidelines I give permission for ______________________________________ to participate in daily rapid COVID testing at school during their quarantine period. Parent Signature:____________________________________________________ Printed name:_______________________________________________________