GRANGER, Texas - On Wednesday, Governor Greg Abbott announced that he is partnering with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to roll out a COVID-19 rapid testing pilot program for public and private schools.
There are eight school districts participating and the first school began testing on Monday. A TEA spokesperson anticipates the pilot will last another week.
The program uses Abbott BinaxNow Ag Card Tests. According to the company’s website, they have a “demonstrated sensitivity of 97.1% (positive percent agreement) and specificity of 98.5% (negative percent agreement) in patients suspected of COVID-19.”
TDEM will provide the tests. “The tests are unique, they take only about 15 minutes, it's non-invasive,” said Lampasas ISD Superintendent Chane Rascoe.
Staff will be given access to the tests, as will students with written permission. Schools have been given leniency on who will be conducting testing, who will be tested and how. PPE and training will be provided for schools.
A TEA spokesperson says technically districts could ask their employees to carry out testing. “Test administrators will be determined at the local level. A test administrator may be any individual identified by the school system who completes the required training and submits all testing results as required by state and federal law.” said the spokesperson.
FOX 7 Austin sent the TEA a number of questions, including if schools could choose to deny on-campus instruction for students whose parents deny, or do not provide written consent for testing. That was the only question they did not provide a response for.
Granger ISD is participating in the pilot and superintendent Randy Willis says testing will be voluntary. “To be able to do things in real-time and then manage the information we can provide the best and most safe environment for both our teachers and our students,” said Willis.
Lampasas ISD has also opted into the pilot. Rascoe says they are also making testing voluntary. Currently, rapid testing isn't available in the county.
“If you test positive in a town that's close by, our local health authority is not contacted for several days,” said Rascoe, explaining how that delays the district's contact tracing.
Willis hopes to use this program to make tests available to staff and students at a local clinic. The district also plans to have asymptomatic teachers tested about once a month. “We've had about 50 staff so far sign up, that's completely voluntary,” he said.
Willis says Granger ISD is still working out details but hopes to partner with a local healthcare system. “Number one priority for me is concern for my staff and for my kids and for my students,” he said.
Schools interested in the testing program can apply through the TEA beginning on October 28.
“The testing program duration will be dependent on the number of BinaxNow test kits that are ultimately provided by our federal partners and the level of participation from school systems.” said the TEA spokesperson.
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