RSF School approves testing partnership with UC San Diego Health

Newly installed tents on the R. Roger Rowe campus.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe School District has approved a new testing agreement with UC San Diego Health to provide symptomatic COVID-19 testing of staff and students.

The California Department of Public Health guidelines state that testing should be part of a comprehensive strategy for a safe reopening and should be used in conjunction with promoting behaviors that reduce the spread, including physical distancing, facial coverings and hand washing. The district is already following the county’s guidelines in which staff is tested every two months, however, the partnership with UC San Diego is an additional strategy to ensure that symptomatic people are getting tested to help prevent an outbreak. As the results are received in 12 to 48 hours, staff and students will be able to return to school more quickly with evidence of a negative test. If they test positive, they will be able to quarantine more quickly to limit the spread of the virus.

With its Nov. 12 decisions, the board committed to $20,400 in symptomatic testing for students and staff, testing of a class in the event of a positive case in the cohort and re-entry testing for staff following Thanksgiving break. The district has about $45,000 in remaining state and federal COVID-19 funding.

Board member Sarah Neal said the testing agreements were a difficult decision to make due to budget constraints but ultimately she could see the benefit of it.

“The science shows that if we can test people quickly, we can isolate and prevent a community outbreak in our school,” Neal said. “I think it makes sense for our school to take a leadership position for the common good of the community of our school.”

“I’m 100% in support of having the testing for symptomatic individuals, I think it’s key,” agreed Vice President Kali Kim. “I think we would be remiss to not catch a positive case earlier.”

Since reopening full time in August, Rancho Santa Fe has not recorded a positive case in students or staff. Larger districts around Rancho Santa Fe have reported about six to eight cases since reopening in full time and hybrid models. As of press time, Del Mar Union School District has five active cases, Solana Beach School District has two and Encinitas Union School District has three.

Per the UC San Diego agreement, the nasal swab PCR tests cost the district $40. The symptomatic testing will be provided to staff and offered to families when parents call in a student absence with COVID-19-related symptoms or when a student is sent home with COVID-19-related symptoms. Tripi said If parents wanted to reduce the cost burden to the district they would have the option to pay for the test—they could also opt to use an alternative testing provider.

With cohort testing, the board approved requiring teachers to be tested when there is a positive case in the cohort and offering parents the ability to have children tested through the district’s UC San Diego account. The cohort testing is estimated to cost $4,800 assuming there are about six cases a year and 20 individuals a case.

At the meeting, the board considered asymptomatic surveillance testing after all of the four remaining longer school breaks of Thanksgiving, winter break, family week and spring break as it is likely that some staff members will travel or increase their sphere of contacts over extended breaks. The cost for testing staff after all four breaks was estimated to cost $14,400.

The board unanimously approved re-entry testing for staff after Thanksgiving break only, a cost of $3,600. Kim proposed testing staff after both Thanksgiving and winter break but the motion failed 2-3 with Jee Manghani, Tyler Seltzer and Kahn opposed. The dissenting board members had concerns about the utility and the costs as there are uncertainties with the budget. At the first interim budget review, the district is projected to deficit spend in 2020-21 by about $57,000.

Staff will continue to be tested with the county testing program and the school board can also revisit the option for more re-entry testing in the coming months.

At this time, none of the board members supported surveillance testing for students after the breaks, which is estimated to cost $49,600 to $64,000. In a recent survey, 56% of Rowe families said they would be interested in surveillance testing.

Rather than approve the testing contract, the board said the district would encourage families to take part in their symptomatic testing program. With Thanksgiving break approaching the district reinforced the California Department of Public Health’s recent travel advisory that encourages those who are traveling out of state or out of the country to self-quarantine for 14 days. It also encourages Californians to stay home or in their region and avoid non-essential out-of-state travel.