Lincoln holding off on district-wide school surveillance testing

Lincoln holding off on district-wide school surveillance testing

District planning to test LHS student-athletes

LINCOLN – The Lincoln School Department is planning to test its high school athletes for COVID-19, but isn’t rolling out district-wide surveillance testing just yet, officials are saying.

Lincoln was one of three communities to pilot the state’s COVID-19 surveillance testing program last month, but Supt. Larry Filippelli, pictured, said continuing the program would pose logistical and instructional issues. To be clear, Filippelli said he’s not closing the door completely on testing.

If the need arises for Lincoln to have surveillance testing, such as a serious increase in cases, Filippelli said he would “absolutely make the necessary plans with our town support systems to make that happen to uphold the safety of our students, faculty and staff.”

Filippelli said Lincoln had “heavy support” from the Rhode Island Department of Health, but even with their support, “there was a strain on the nurse and the administrative team at Lincoln Middle School” where the pilot was run.

When he asked the state whether additional support would be given to the schools moving forward, Filippelli said he was told it would be impossible to provide that level of support to all of the districts opting into testing.

The superintendent said he understood the decision, since resources are stretched thin, but without additional support, “the onus falls on our already stretched school administration, nurses, teachers and support staff” to run the program.

Another reason for opting out, for now, is that testing cuts into instructional time.

Lincoln only tested 50 to 60 students at LMS, and the school’s principal reported that it took two and a half hours from set up to completion, Filippelli said.

“When I balance that against instructional time away from our kids who need all they can get, it would take days to get our district tested. Those days translate into lost instructional time both for in-person students and those students on virtual instruction,” he said. “We have to support all of our learners, especially in this COVID environment.”

The district would need to set up a testing schedule with RIDOH, but Filippelli said once the testing windows are scheduled, “it could be weeks or perhaps even a month before we can effectively set up another round of testing, thereby removing more instructional time.”

“And, to what end? Our pilot testing (fortunately) produced no positive testing results. This method doesn’t really add to the bottom line or help us control virus spread which is the intent of the testing. Rather, it’s just a snapshot in time that may or may not yield results,” he said.

Then, there’s funding. While colleges and universities have the resources to test students and staff on a regular basis, Filippelli said public schools simply do not.

Filippelli told The Breeze last Friday that Lincoln has reached an agreement with RIDOH to test student-athletes at Lincoln High School, if sports are able to continue.

Filippelli signed a memorandum of agreement with the state to offer BINAX tests, which return results in roughly 15 minutes.

“Ultimately, in order for them to engage in sports I think this is coming down the pipeline, and they’ll need to be tested fairly regularly, so I softened my position a bit in thinking about the student athletes,” he said.

The BINAX testing is currently in the planning phase, and Filippelli said school nurses will need to be trained. He said he’s hoping to get a supply of the tests by next week.

Comments

The decision to not test students, teachers and faculty will leave our entire district prone to the virus. Supt. Filippelli outlined 3 reasons why not to partake in the statewide program: No one tested positive during the pilot program, testing would take too much time and the school does not have the physical resources for testing. All of these points are flimsy at best.

1) No one tested positive during the pilot program. This is the easiest to pick apart. According to RIDE, there are 3213 students enrolled in Lincoln Public Schools, which means that the pilot program tested <2% of all students. At LMS alone, <8% of all students were tested, and they are less likely to be exposed to the virus as middle school students cannot drive themselves to see friends and none of them can hold part time jobs. Since the start of the school year, Lincoln schools have had anywhere between 105-153 cases. This does not even account for the fact that current estimates state that only 1 in 3 covid patients are tested, which would put the real amount of covid cases between 350-500 for the school year.

2) Testing takes too much time from academics. This is true, but ignores the fact that more time would be taken away from academics if a teacher becomes infected with covid. Not only that, but academic ability is largely based in student's mental health, which is already poor, and would likely suffer even more if they or a family member contract covid. A teacher's ability to teach would also suffer if they were in a similar situation with their families.

3) Not enough physical resources. The school department has the legal ability to hire temporary, hourly workers specifically to monitor testing. If the school department does not have the financial resources to do this, they should work with state and congressional officials to work out details on funding from the new covid package, or asking the town for more money next year.

There is no argument that could be made that does not put the health and safety of our students, teachers and faculty first. The school department should immediately opt into the program and do its part to stop the spread of covid in our community.