New York weighs expanded in-school coronavirus testing as students return | #students | #parents



ALBANY — State officials are weighing how to distribute hundreds of millions new federal dollars that are to be used for an expansion COVID-19 testing in public K-12 schools.

New York is poised to receive $335 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control this month to distribute among more than 700 districts, one component of the Biden administration’s effort to flood schools with federal money and bring back in-person learning for most students by this spring.

Teachers’ unions have lobbied for state and federal money to establish pooled surveillance testing in every school building, similar to the routine screenings provided to students and faculty on State University of New York (SUNY) campuses.

The consensus is that $335 million is insufficient to create a statewide pooled testing program without additional support from the state. New York State United Teachers President Andrew Pallotta said COVID-19 testing would enable teachers feel safer in the classroom.

“The state is getting $335 million (from the CDC); that sounds like a lot of money but it’s not,” Pallotta said. “It’s not when you want to do the testing that we want to do.”

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A pilot program in Massachusetts — the first state to attempt statewide pooled testing in K-12 schools — has in two months cost the state $40 million to $60 million to conduct tests in 1,000 schools, The Atlantic reports. New York has 4,422 public schools and 351 charter schools.

The New York State Council of School Superintendents (NYSCOSS), which represents school leaders across the state, wants the money directed to towards urban districts hard-hit by the pandemic where many families are still hesitant to send their children back to school.

“There are some communities where parents are showing great wariness about their children going back to school you read it in the news every day… that’s where we should concentrate the federal resources,” NYSCOSS spokesman Bob Lowry said. “There are districts where this does not seem to be an issue.”

The apprehension is apparent at city schools in Albany and Schenectady, where more than 50 percent of the elementary school students opted for fully remote learning this year. Schools in the surrounding suburbs taught roughly 20 percent of their student populations remotely this year.

The Capital Region has never been classified as a COVID-19 micro-cluster, which would trigger a state mandate on in-school testing, but a number of local districts chose to utilize free tests provided by the state Department of Health to do at least one round of testing in December and January when community infections hit a record high.

Hundreds of screenings uncovered in few positives. The CDC has since released a study showing that in-school transmission is rare.

Statewide, about 57 out of 700 school districts in New York have voluntarily screened students or staff, according to a recent NYSUT survey.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said the state is “awaiting further guidance from the federal government” on how the funds may be spent.

“We agree with the President that reopening schools is a top priority, which is why we’ve had strong, science-based guidance since last summer that allowed in-person education to safely restart, and over the last year we’ve provided nearly 630,000 test kits to school districts at no cost,” Cuomo spokesman Jack Sterne said. “We appreciate the CDC’s support for these ongoing efforts.”

Some districts, including Albany and Schenectady, are just beginning to bring middle and high school students back to the classroom.


Space constraints, transportation schedules, and evolving social distancing guidelines are among the logistical challenges officials are working through as they hustle to reopen buildings this spring.

The Biden administration has set a goal of having a majority of schools reopen for in-person learning five days a week by April 30, his 100th day in office.

To help schools reopen, fight learning loss and shoulder other new expenses, the American Rescue Plan is pumping an unprecedented amount of money into public schools using the Title I formula, which prioritizes high-need districts.

The CDC’s most recent guidance for schools reopening and has advised that in counties where community infection rates are low, desks may be separated by three feet instead of six. In areas with higher risk of infection, middle and high school students must be separated by six feet.

Every county in the Capital Region is currently classified as “high-risk,” according to the CDC.

Biden has also encouraged states to prioritize vaccinating teachers and school staff, which New York has done.



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