Springdale School District Participates in Covid-19 Quarantine Pilot Project


SPRINGDALE – The school district concluded its participation in a two-week Test to Stay pilot program to reduce quarantines of covid-19 students and staff on Friday.

“They just want to keep the kids in school – get them to learn,” said Amanda Britt, the Arkansas Department of Education’s liaison with the Arkansas Department of Health. “Last year was such a bad year for education.”

Department of Education guidelines for schools exempt people who have been vaccinated or who have had covid-19 infections in the past three months from which they have recovered from quarantine unless they develop symptoms .

Students and staff can also avoid quarantine if they and the infected person were wearing masks.

As part of the Test to Stay program, students and staff who do not qualify for any of these exceptions and who are identified as likely close contact through school exposure to covid-19 can still avoid having to self-quarantine if they wear a mask and undergo rapid daily coronavirus tests that come back negative after exposure.

Springdale’s participation in the pilot is a result of steps Superintendent Jared Cleveland has taken to work with the state to reduce school quarantines, said Damon Donnell, director of student services for the Springdale School District.

Cleveland wrote a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on September 9 requesting changes to the state’s covid-19 quarantine guidelines.

“It was the tipping point that allowed some freedom and choice for students, families and staff,” said Donnell.

The district has identified 6,332 probable close contacts who met covid-19 quarantine requirements due to exposure at the school during the 2020-21 school year, according to the letter. Of these, 104, or 1.6%, tested positive for covid-19.

“They weren’t in school for 14 days and they missed all of that content,” Donnell said. “The overall goal is that we are not going to send the children home unnecessarily.”

Cleveland is one of the many educators who have said that students generally learn best when they attend school in person rather than attending a virtual school.

Only 12% of Arkansas public schools improved their state responsibility scores in the 2020-21 school year compared to the 2018-19 school year that preceded the covid-19 pandemic – scores that largely depend on the ACT results required by the state Aspire Exams given in Grades 3 through 10 last spring. The drop in scores follows a long layoff from in-person tuition in the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic; Additionally, approximately 20% of Arkansas students opted for virtual learning in the 2020-21 school year.

Cleveland said the data underscores people being too quarantined during the pandemic, an issue Test to Stay is designed to address, Britt said.

The Test to Stay pilot project began Oct. 11 and was open to voluntary participation by students and staff from 31 schools in the district, Donnell said. Springdale is the largest district in the state with approximately 22,000 students and some 3,000 staff.

Thirteen students were participating in Test to Stay on Thursday, Donnell said. None had tested positive for covid-19.

“They go to school every day, which is the whole point of the program,” he said.

School nurses give free, state-provided rapid covid-19 tests to pilot participants every day of the week they are in school throughout the quarantine period after known school exposure, said Donnell. The tests take approximately 15 minutes.

If negative, the student stays in school and continues daily temperature and symptom screenings, according to program protocols. If positive, the student self-isolates for 10 days from the date of the test or 10 days from the onset of symptoms, whichever is longer. No further testing is required.

Program protocols initially prohibited Test to Stay participants from engaging in extracurricular activities, Britt said, but Hutchinson lifted the restriction on Tuesday.

“If they are tested daily, I think they have determined that it is safe enough,” said Britt.

Hutchinson also announced on Tuesday a reduction in social distancing guidelines from 6 to 3 feet for schools.

“It’s a small step, but it’s important for the district,” said Debbie Jones, superintendent of the Bentonville school district, at a school board meeting on Tuesday. “I hope we will see our quarantines drastically reduced because the children have to be in school every day.”

Although Bentonville, Cabot, Springdale and Russellville were all identified by Hutchinson on Oct. 6 as Test to Stay pilot districts, only Springdale and Russellville participated in the pilot, Britt said.

Tony Thurman, superintendent of the Cabot School District, did not explain why the district chose not to participate.

“We will reconsider this decision later this week,” Thurman said in an email Tuesday.

Bentonville did not receive the covid-19 tests required for the pilot project until Oct. 13, barring its participation, said Leslee Wright, district communications director.

The Russellville School Board unanimously approved the district’s continued participation in the program on Tuesday at its monthly board meeting.

All districts in the state will be able to voluntarily begin participating in Test to Stay starting Monday, Britt said. About 39 districts have expressed interest in the program, including Rogers.

“We are currently in the initial application process and we still have some logistics to work out here before we get ready to start the program,” said Charles Lee, assistant superintendent at Rogers.

The Fayetteville School District is choosing not to participate at this point, said Holly Johnson, director of communications. The district has very few students in quarantine and still has a mask policy in place for all staff and students, she said.

Springdale Public Schools RN Trisa Osborne shows off a swab from a covid-19 test on Thursday, October 21, 2021 at the Don Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale. The tests give results in fifteen minutes. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / JT Wampler)

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Covid-19 data

The most recent information on the Springdale School District covid-19 exposures can be found at https://www.sdale.org/page/covid.

Source: Springdale School District

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