Frederick County’s Board of Education is working on a voluntary coronavirus screening program the county’s public schools will soon implement for employees.
In collaboration with the county’s health department, Frederick County Public Schools has enrolled in the Maryland State Screening Test Program and is currently finalizing an agreement with a vendor and seeking state approval to move forward, according to FCPS Superintendent Dr. Terry Alban.
The program, which will provide PCR screening tests and share results within 24 hours, will be part of the school system’s strategy to limit the spread of coronavirus in its facilities. At Wednesday night's board meeting, Alban said she thinks the vendor would be ready to roll out the program during the first week of October.
Board member Liz Barrett, who made a motion to outline the screening program, acknowledged President Joe Biden’s recent push to vaccinate school teachers and staffers through new Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, which will be released in the coming weeks.
“In the meantime, a voluntary screening testing program to me makes the most sense because we’re able to gauge how it’s going to work, we’re able to gauge employee participation,” she said. “I still think we need to be actively encouraging vaccination for all of our staff members, but I do think this is an important thing to do.”
In response to a question from board member David Bass, Alban said the selected vendor would also be able to roll-out a screening test program for students if the board desired.
This sort of program would be used to get a sense of the virus’ spread in schools and identify cases early so those who test positive could be placed in isolation, she said.
Since FCPS needs parental permission any time it offers testing to students, screening tests would be voluntary for students, Alban said. Schools would need to have about 10 percent of their populations participate in the program to understand the extent of spread within their facilities.
Barrett later moved for Alban and her staff to present costs and considerations for voluntary, parent-authorized testing options for students at the board’s next meeting, an action supported by all board members except President Jay Mason.
In offering voluntary testing for students, Barrett said, FCPS could potentially reduce the number of people in quarantine. She said she thinks the school system is contributing to the long wait times county residents have to endure if they want to get tested for COVID.
Before Barrett’s motion passed, Alban said she would ask the county’s health officer, Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, to attend the board’s next meeting on Oct. 13.
COVID metrics, parameters
Earlier in Wednesday's meeting, Alban sought guidance from the board about specific metrics or parameters that would have to be met for FCPS to modify its operational model, which is currently in-person instruction five days per week for all students. In light of the delta variant's circulation, Alban said she has recently been hearing from families and staff members alike who are wondering whether "we are changing our minds."
Other school systems in Maryland have said they would "stay the course" unless directed otherwise by the state, Alban told board members. Health department officials have told her the number of people hospitalized in the county is the most important metric to track, she said. If the hospital becomes overwhelmed, she said, it would affect the standard of care for the entire community.
During a lengthy discussion, several board members stressed just how important it was that children remained in school. Many voiced their support for FCPS to continue providing face-to-face instruction five days per week unless the state or health officials tell the school system it cannot stay open.
Still, board members identified flaws in the system's current model of instruction. Jason Johnson and Barrett were especially vocal in their concerns that students in quarantine were missing out on instruction and falling behind.
"Stay the course is not enough," Barrett said. "Yes, let's stay open, but let's make it better."