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The Hiawatha School Board met in special session Wednesday morning and approved the “Test to Stay” in an effort to battle rising COVID cases and quarantines in students and staff.

At last month’s board meeting, the “Test to Stay” grant was discussed as an option to help keep kids in the classrooms. The idea is that students who are considered “close contacts” or exposed to someone who is positive with COVID-19 are given the option to test with a nasal antigen in the nurse’s office every day. If those tests are negative, the student can resume normal activities in the classroom and sports practices. The next day, they are tested again — through the 10-day recommended period.

At the time there were some concerns from board members about the time this could consume of the school nurse’s days. Erin Wenger, head district nurse, said the grant would provide funding to hire someone to help administer the testing.

On Wednesday, following discussion the board voted to move forward 5-1 — with Tom Simmer casting the nay vote and Andrea Groth absent — to accept the grant and implement this new practice the week following Labor Day. The testing is for asymptomatic close contacts and the grant will cover the cost of the testing and the hiring of a nurse to help with the additional duties.

This came after recent quarantines were implemented on students who had been exposed to a person positive with COVID. Board member Ian Schuetz said in the meeting that roughly 40 students were in quarantine as of that day and Superintendent Lonnie Moser said that implementing the “Test to Stay” program would help alleviate those quarantines and keep the students in the classroom and regular activities.

Another concern that was discussed was parental permissions. Board members discussed that parents would be able to sign an “opt in” permission form at any time that would be good for the entire academic year. However, each time a student would potentially be tested, the parent would also be contacted prior and notified. Parents can opt out at any time.

Schuetz talked about the high demands this would create on the staff and the testing could actually create more testing as the district became aware of positive diagnoses, leading to more close contacts. However, he acknowledged this would be a good way to keep from having to quarantine large groups of students without implementing a mask mandate — which he said he would not be in favor of.

“We are playing quarantine games, to be honest with you, we are looking for ways to work around what is a too-far reaching quarantine mandate, at least the way I see it,” he said.

Schuetz said a lot of healthy kids are being quarantined due to the guidelines — which is a concern for him — but he also said “we don’t want to keep sick kids at school.”

Moser reminded that the names of close contacts are provided to the Brown County Health Department, who determines the final quarantine protocol — not the district.

“I don’t know of another way to have that defense,” Moser said the testing was “not perfect by any means,” but he didn’t know of any other way to have that defense.

Board member Amy Kopp expressed concern about the school’s liability since the test is known to be only 80 percent accurate. She said what if the test was negative and a student presented symptoms and became very ill with COVID, also exposing others.

Wenger said that if a student showed symptoms and was testing negative that the student would be referred to their health care provider. Kopp commented that strict documentation of the processes needed to be kept.

Kopp also noted that according to information she had received from healthcare providers, that the test wouldn’t show a positive until Day 4 or 5. At that time, it could lead to a lot of other testing if more students showed positive.

Schuetz commented that the only other alternative he saw was to go back to a mask-to-mask mandate within the schools and he wasn’t ready to do that yet. He noted that all the district could do was try the “Test to Stay” and if it became too much to handle, or didn’t alleviate the problems with quarantining mass numbers, then the board could revisit the issue.

Board President Tom Simmer said he felt they could be testing a lot of kids unnecessarily and noted that he felt the only way they beat it last year was by implementing a mask mandate.

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