Indian Prairie Dist. 204 to roll out COVID-19 testing program
With the first week of hybrid learning under its belt, Indian Prairie Unit District 204 now plans to phase in a COVID-19 screening program aimed at preventing the spread of the virus in schools.
The school board this week unanimously approved a contract of up to $1.5 million with SafeGuard Surveillance, LLC to offer voluntary testing to all staff members, as well as middle and high schoolers and students in the STEPS transition program.
The self-administered saliva tests are not diagnostic, but are used for early detection of potential positive cases, particularly those which may be asymptomatic, Superintendent Adrian Talley said.
"By implementing this procedure, we hope to have fewer disruptions to in-person learning," he said in a letter to the community Tuesday.
Surveillance testing kits will be provided to participants, whose samples will be collected weekly and taken to the Brookfield-based lab, Talley said. If the screening suggests a positive result, the individual would be notified by a designated school testing coordinator and advised to take a diagnostic test for confirmation.
The contract lasts through spring break, at which point all employees are expected to have had an opportunity to be vaccinated, Talley said, though the testing program could be extended if needed.
Serving roughly 27,400 students in the Naperville and Aurora areas, Indian Prairie is joining several nearby districts that have also decided to implement surveillance screening, including Naperville Unit District 203 and Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200.
So as not to overwhelm SafeGuard Surveillance, District 204 will first offer the testing to STEPS students, followed by staff members who work in special education, while surveying other eligible participants, Talley said. By mid-February, the district plans to expand the program to all employees and secondary-level students who want to be tested, he said.
If participation is high enough, Talley said, the district could use the testing data to help determine whether schools should remain open in the event of another community surge.
Preschoolers, kindergartners through second-graders and students in specialized groups were among the first to return to the classroom last week for hybrid learning. Talley said the district has received positive feedback from students and teachers who were excited to be face-to-face, some for the first time since the stay-at-home order last March.
Third- through sixth-graders and high-schoolers are making the transition this week, while seventh- and eighth-graders are slated to return next week. An online-only option also is available for all students.
District officials are exploring options for increasing in-person learning time through the hybrid model, which would also increase synchronous instruction and teacher availability for remote learners, Talley said.