RSF School to provide re-entry testing for teachers after winter break

R. Roger Rowe School.

On Dec. 1 the Rancho Santa Fe School District board approved providing re-entry testing for all staff through UC San Diego Health following the winter break but the board did not have majority support for similar asymptomatic surveillance testing for students. Only board members Jee Manghani and Sarah Neal supported testing students; Vice President Kali Kim and outgoing board members Tyler Seltzer and Scott Kahn were opposed.

“I think all of the board members supported parents choosing to test their own kids upon re-entry in the new year,” said Manghani. “Where we had a difference of opinion, was to set aside some district money to help pay for some of the testing, potentially for those who asked for assistance in paying.”

The agenda item could not wait until new board members John Tree, Annette Ross and Rosemarie Rohatgi will be sworn-in on Dec. 17 as UC San Diego Health wanted a contract in place by Dec. 1 to be able to handle the tests and to provide them on-site.

In November, the board approved a partnership with UC San Diego to provide symptomatic testing for staff and students. As the results of the $40 tests are received in 12 to 48 hours, staff and students are able to return to school more quickly with evidence of a negative test. If they test positive, the school will be able to quarantine more quickly to limit the spread of the virus.

Superintendent Donna Tripi said since reopening full-time in August, the district has not had a positive case or school outbreak.

In November, the board also approved re-entry testing for staff after the Thanksgiving break. Testing was offered to the 90 staff members beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving, however, due to limited availability, some staff members chose to go to county sites.

In addition to the re-entry testing of staff after winter break, the district plans to continue following the county’s guidelines in which all staff is tested every two months though the county’s free testing program.

Chris Longhurst, a physician on the district’s health and hygiene committee, had recommended the asymptomatic testing of students.

“I want to reiterate my strong support for school-based asymptomatic testing and encourage the board to do everything possible to make this happen for as many students as possible, not just those who can afford to pay,” Longhurst said.

In a districtwide survey, 56% of families said they would be interested in asymptomatic testing. With the district’s contract of $40 per test, the district would be committing about $12,400 to $16,000 for the student re-entry testing. Parents would have the option of paying for the test themselves using the district’s contract but the district could not require students to get tested nor could it require families to pay.

The board made the decision not to provide re-entry testing of students after Thanksgiving break and instead sent out information to parents about the California Department of Public Health travel advisory with the suggested 14-day voluntary quarantine and testing. The district offered distance learning to families starting for families who opted to quarantine—according to Tripi, 23 elementary students and 17 middle school students chose to voluntarily quarantine, joining those students already in distance learning.

The majority of the board favored following those same procedures following the Dec. 21-Jan. 4, 2021 break.

“In the end it just comes down to who is going to pay for the test and the availability of the test. I think to me, it’s about breaking down every barrier so that the parents have less impediments to go forward and take a test,” Manghani said of his support of the testing, particularly after the holidays when families may be traveling to other cities, mixing cohorts and families. “For Thanksgiving I didn’t really think it was necessary but for Christmas I think it is necessary to break down all barriers so that the parents will get their kids and themselves tested.”

Kim and Kahn explained that per the district’s protocols, students who have been exposed to the virus are already supposed to quarantine and get tested. For those that travel and follow public health guidelines, when they come back they should quarantine.

“What remains are the kids that haven’t traveled and have not been knowingly been exposed to a positive case,” Kahn said.
Kahn and Kim both questioned whether surveillance testing of that group of students would be beneficial. Seltzer stated that he was not in favor of asymptomatic testing of students that have not been knowingly exposed.

Following winter break, symptomatic testing of students will continue to be provided through the district’s partnership with UC San Diego and the district plans to again communicate the state’s public health advisories. The district has also committed to providing testing of a class in the event of a positive case in a cohort.