It seems counter-intuitive: Flagler County schools have declined an offer from the Flagler County Health Department to place free rapid-covid-test kits at the district’s nine school campuses. The rapid tests, part of a federal grant, could have been used to drastically minimize the need for students to be quarantined at home for 10 days at a time when merely suspected of having been exposed to the virus.
In contrast, eight private schools and Imagine at Town Center, the charter school, have accepted the Health Department’s offer.
The breach is occurring barely a month before the start of the 2021-22 school year in the district. School officials are preparing for a full resumption of in-person classes, having scrapped the remote option (except for virtual school). But with vaccinations lagging among the young and the far more transmissible Delta variant of the covid virus emerging–it is making its way north from South Florida–normalcy will not quite be the order of the day on campuses, which are being prepared in many other ways to buffer against the pandemic. Those preparations are themselves an indication that the district is not declaring victory against the virus just yet.
But it’s for those reasons that the Health Department was hoping the rapid test–a very quick, un-intrusive test that yields results in minutes–was among those preparations.
“The whole idea is to promote safe, in-person instruction,” Bob Snyder, the Health Department’s administrator, said. “I’m grateful that several private schools have agreed to allow us to use this other option for avoiding quarantine when it’s not necessary, and I’m sure parents will be very grateful to know that, especially when both parents work.” In all, some 1,700 students and 200 staffers at the private schools will have access to the rapid test when necessary.
That leaves out close to 13,000 public school students and 1,700 staffers. There was audible dismay in Snyder’s voice when he was asked whether the public schools were participating. He would not criticize the district–it’s a vital partner of the department’s in its continuing–and, locally, relatively successful–campaign against the coronavirus. But it was clear that he wished the district was participating.
“The decision to not utilize Flagler Department of Health’s rapid testing option on campus was something we considered but decided against for a few reasons,” David Bossardet, the district’s point man on pandemic strategies, said in an email. ” One was the logistics with how that would work on a school campus (testing locations, isolating close contacts, staffing, transporting students, parent notification, etc.). Another reason is that we have not conducted any Covid-19 testing on our campuses until this point and next year one of our focuses is to try to create as much of a traditional school environment as possible for our students (some of which will be on campus for the first time since March of 2020). While we decided against this option, I continue to value the partnership we have with our local health department and truly appreciate everything they have done to support our schools throughout all of this.”
Last month the Centers for Disease Control awarded the Flagler Health Department a $3.8 million grant to promote safe instruction at school. The grant is part of a $10 billion award from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. The local grant has not been publicized until now. The department is required to spend it by July 21, 2021. The Health Department and the schools have come up with a list of priorities that will be put in place with the money.
To Snyder, the rapid test was to have been one of them. The so-called BinaxNOW test is provided by Abbott. It’s a non-invasive nasal swab (meaning that the swab doesn’t have to dig too far in to get the sample: none of those brain-scratching tortures). A student who has been exposed to the virus would have to go to the nurse’s station every other day for 10 days for a test. The wait is up to 15 minutes. As long as the student tests negative, the student can remain in school, continuing interactions with other students as normal, or at least within distancing guidelines. If the student tests positive, the student is sent home for a minimum of 10 days and contact tracing follows its course at school.
The difference comes down to enabling most students who are only suspected of having contracted the virus to stay in school rather than miss 10 days. It also enables parents to continue with their work routines rather than scramble to find someone to stay with the homebound child. Psychologically, it lessens the anxiety of living for 10 days with the uncertainty of having the virus or not.
As an alternative, the health Department is offering to make its facility in Bunnell a rapid testing site for students and staffers, as long as the individual commits to the 10-day, every-other-day testing regimen. Snyder had made the alternative offer to the district but had not heard back.
Bossardet said that’s an option the district is exploring, with reservations. “We are definitely interested in options that would prevent students needing to quarantine following state/federal guidelines (hopefully new guidance will become available prior to next school year),” he wrote. “If DOH’s testing options follows that guidance it is something we would consider. However, at this time we would still prefer to allocate grant funding towards” other projects.
Bossardet and Snyder outlined some of those, which are expected to be in place by the time school resumes–pending approval, since the proposals must comply with the grant requirement.
For example, 2ith $2.7 million, the district would renovate 10 different cafeteria serving lines at schools. The two biggest settings in the school system where students are closest together are in the cafeteria and on the school bus. Renovating and reengineering serving lines to promote more distancing would, Snyder said, be an allowable expense under the grant. The district will also be encouraging outdoor activities. “A good dollar amount is going to be spent on outdoor eating pavilions and shade coverings to promote outdoor activity,” he said.
Bossardet also outlined the following plans:
- Clinic upgrades that would help standardize all clinics and ensure they have the necessary equipment needed to treat students.
- Contracted nurses to help address any shortages and keep up with additional demand.
- Classroom expansion projects/outdoor learning spaces to allow for more social distancing in needed areas.
- Reconfiguring bus routes to allow for more social distancing and reduce the number of students on certain routes.
- Water bottle filling stations that would replace traditional drinking fountains, helping reduce germ transmission.
Snyder is still hoping that all schools will join in the program for rapid testing. “It sure beats missing school, it sure beats missing out and being home,” he said.
But ultimately, it’s the emphasis on vaccination that may diminish the broader risks. The covid vaccine will be made available to all students who want one–voluntarily. “Absolutely. I’ve already brought this up to Cathy and David Bossardet,” Snyder said, referring to Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt. “When the vaccine is available to those younger than age 12, just like with the flu vaccine, we would like to offer flu again this year like we always do, then offer the covid vaccine to all children upon parental consent, and work with the school district on getting as many as we can vaccinate just like we do with the flu. That is the plan. That is the hope.”
To that end, the partnership between the Health Department and the school district remains essential, even in the face of some disagreements. “They are our Number 1 partners, we can’t do all that we’re doing without them,” Snyder said.
How the test works:
Bill C says
This smacks more of a political decision by anti-vaxxers than a health decision. The reasons given for declining testing are laughable, that it’s basically too much trouble and never been done here before.
Paul G says
I agree with your statement completely. “STUPID IS, STUPID DOES” You can’t expect these people to reason with common sense, they have none.
It is obvious the district only wants to use the money on things that will benefit the schools grounds and structures , they are treating this like a joke and trying to use the money to Simply upgrade their facilities. They are just sitting back hoping it all goes away with no regard for student safety. They have a “just pretend everything is normal” attitude, when they should be preparing for the next wave of the virus that is so obviously coming. SHAME
What Else Is New says
Shocking news. It’s a shame the political affiliation of the Flagler County School Board members isn’t reported. One wonders if they are all Republicans. Shame on them for ignoring public school students.
Dumb and dumber.
Those making the decisions must be Janet McDonald disciples.
Mark K says
I agree with Bill C . Total lack of concern for the children and staff.
Percy's mother says
With a new highly transmissible Covid variant running amok in society . . .
“The decision to not utilize Flagler Department of Health’s rapid testing option on campus was something we considered but decided against for a few reasons,” David Bossardet, the district’s point man on pandemic strategies, said in an email.
(what are Bossardet’s qualifications for being the district’s point man on pandemic strategies?). Does Bossardet (like Heidi Petito have just a high school diploma?) or does he at least have a bachelor’s degree? which (may) give him some critical thinking skills.
Who is ‘WE”? Is it known who the “we” is who made the decision?
“One was the logistics with how that would work on a school campus (testing locations, isolating close contacts, staffing, transporting students, parent notification, etc.).
I thought there was a Flagler County Schools nurse (employee) stationed at every school. Aren’t they qualified to “test”? If not, WHY? ARE there school nurses stationed at every school in Flagler County?
Isolating close contacts is a health department issue (contact tracing).
Staffing? Again, doesn’t every school have a school nurse?
Transporting students? Isn’t that the job of a parent?
Parent notification? Wouldn’t that be the job of administration (at the school)?
What’s such a big deal with this?
“Another reason is that we have not conducted any Covid-19 testing on our campuses until this point and next year one of our focuses is to try to create as much of a traditional school environment as possible for our students (some of which will be on campus for the first time since March of 2020)”.
Aren’t school nurses either LPNs (the nurses you see in doctor’s offices) or RNs? Either / or should be qualified to test for Covid.
I think this decision by “we” will come back to haunt him / them. When that happens, I think “we” should be fired.
Parent of Mary says
Not sure what qualifications he has for operating school during pandemic or any medical background?
There is either LPN or RN at each school. but if there is no nurse sub available, then a trained unlicensed assistive personal handles clinic duties.. Dept. Of Health has own nurses conducting contact tracing, who notifies district person, who then notify principal, who then notify school nurse of exposed case and who needs to quarantine. Student is supposed to be separated from others until parent picks up. If parent does not pickup, school admin. Notified and Deputy maybe dispatched out to home. Or admin may use school vehicle to transport student for certain circumstances.
Flagler School Nurses are medical professionals who can be trained to complete testing, but staffing and additional support would be needed to complete this effectivly and promote safe healthy in person learning all while still maintaining regular clinic duties.
So exactly who was the medical person that advised the public school to go against the advise of the medical director at the DOH, Dr. Bickel? Please don’t tell me the school administration made this decision to refuse sound medical advise on their own? Because that would be ridiculous wouldn’t it?
That is in the “we” they refer too??…who is the medical person from Flagler County schools that advise them? Or did they just have NON-medical person advised what’s best? Did they even ask school nurses simple survey of thoughts for this year?
Straight out of the Trump Book of Logic… If you don’t test people then the numbers really don’t look that bad.
Well no one said our school leadership was smart. Test the kids our keep them home. And once they become positive and past that to their anti vaxer parents, or grandparents and one becomes very ill, then I guess the other kids will get tested.