KAYSVILLE — As a COVID-19 outbreak is threatening to close Davis High School, the Davis School District is attempting to run the “Test to Stay” program for a second time.
In an email sent to parents Thursday, Principal Gregory Wilkey said the school had hit 24 active cases of the virus.
The state health department has recommended that schools with more than 1,500 students and staff — like Davis High, which has 2,133, according to the district’s website — move to online learning for a period of 10 days whenever 1% of the school population is infected with the virus. In Davis High’s case, that threshold is 21.
Schools may buck the closure protocol and remain open for in-person instruction, however, through participation in the “Test to Stay” program. The program dictates that schools must give every student and staff member the opportunity to be tested for COVID-19 using a rapid antigen test. Those who test negative may return to school, while those who test positive or choose not to be tested must stay home for the 10-day quarantine period.
“We know this process provides us the best opportunity to safely keep our school open,” Wilkey wrote in the email. “In-person schooling allows us to provide the highest quality educational experience for our students. It also allows our students critical social interaction and provides them a means to continue with their important extra-curricular school activities.”
The Davis School District has added its own guidelines for when the program may be used. A school must have the possibility of recovering a minimum of four days, the district announced at a school board meeting earlier this month. And as laid out since the district began piloting the program in December, 80% of parents at the school must agree to allow their children to be tested.
“Test to Stay” has been employed just once before by the district. When the district used it at Syracuse High School in December, more than 80% of the school’s parents filled out a form giving their children permission to participate, but only 68% of students showed up to be tested.
“Not only do we have to get enough permission from parents, we also have to get enough students to participate,” said district spokesperson Chris Williams. “We’re not forcing students to do any of this, they have their rights, they have the ability to make that decision.”
So far, the district is not releasing how many Davis High parents have granted permission for their students to be tested. Williams said all high schools in the district sent out an email to parents in mid-January in an attempt to secure authorization for the remainder of the school year to test students in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, though any consent given can be revoked at any time. It’s unclear how many parents districtwide have submitted the form.
According to Wilkey’s email, parents who have not already must give permission on their student’s school account prior to Sunday. Parents will be notified by 5:30 p.m. Sunday whether the school has met the threshold, the email said.
If 80% of parents give permission, a mass testing site will be set up at Davis High on Monday. Students would attend school, and those who have been given parental consent would leave class to be tested for COVID-19. According to the email, those who test positive would be discreetly notified by an administrator in between classes.
“We know this may be a difficult situation for you,” Wilkey wrote. “We ask for your help and your participation in this program so we may continue to operate as normal.”
Davis High students will not resume in-person classes until Monday, Feb. 8, if the school does not reach 80% participation.
Since the state changed its closure thresholds, cut quarantines for students who are exposed to the virus while wearing a mask and reduced the school closure period at the beginning of 2021, four schools in the Davis School District have been forced to shift to online learning.
Bountiful, Farmington, Layton and Viewmont high schools did not participate in the “Test to Stay” program because, due to the shortened closure period, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and an end-of-the-term day off, the schools would not have been able to reclaim four days.
While it is important for the district to do all it can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its schools, Williams emphasized that school outbreaks are a reflection of the virus’ prevalence in the community.
“So when there are situations in which students aren’t in school congregating, the challenge always is we would hope that students and families do everything they can to keep distance from one another,” he said.