Since eight Lexington schools started piloting the Test to Stay in School option Sept. 27, 443 students have been tested for COVID-19 and only four have tested positive, district officials said.
“That has made it possible for the vast majority of participating students to stay in school rather than quarantine at home,” Fayette County Superintendent Demetrus Liggins said. “As we see a need at schools in addition to our pilot sites, we may expand the availability of the test-to-stay option at other schools on a case-by-case basis.
“One of my top priorities is ensuring our students are able to attend school in-person and we will keep doing what works,” Liggins said in a Tuesday night letter to families.
Thousands of students have been quarantined this school year after being exposed to coronavirus. To reduce the amount of school time missed by students in quarantine, the school district has been piloting an optional program called “Test to Stay in School.”
The program allows students who are exposed to the coronavirus while in school-related settings to continue to attend school if they are not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and they test negative during free on-campus testing before school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The program is not available for students who are exposed to the virus outside school settings.
The district piloted this approach at five elementary schools and three middle schools in Lexington beginning Sept. 27 in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Kentucky Department of Health and the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.
Officials from those agencies are analyzing data from the pilot to help district officials determine whether to expand it to other schools.
The schools in the pilot program are Breckinridge, Clays Mill, Dixie, James Lane Allen and Julius Marks elementary schools and Crawford, Jessie Clark and Morton middle schools.
Families at pilot sites may begin receiving phone calls from CDC scientists this week as part of the review of the program, district officials said.
“We continue to be encouraged by the decreasing number of COVID-19 cases in our community and are excited to see that the number of students and staff testing positive for the virus or needing to quarantine is falling as well,” Liggins said.
During a meeting with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department Tuesday morning, Health Commissioner Kraig Humbaugh encouraged district officials to remain vigilant about the layered health and safety precautions.
The measures in place, including masking, are helping minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 in schools, Humbaugh told district officials.
Humbaugh said the rolling seven-day average of new cases in Fayette County overall was 58 on Tuesday.
The case and quarantine totals from the Fayette County Public Schools, which has roughly 42,000 students and 8,000 employees, for Oct. 19 to Oct. 25, includes 87 new student cases, 11 new staff cases, 256 new student quarantines and one new staff quarantine.
As of Oct. 26, 289 students and 5 employees were in quarantine.
At the Tuesday Fayette County Public Schools Core COVID-19 Team meeting, an update on transportation and child nutrition staffing showed that applications are still being accepted, but the district has made significant headway on recruiting bus drivers and child nutrition employees. There are 21 people with permits currently training on the buses and an additional 24 studying for their permits.
Fayette County child nutrition staff are monitoring product shortages that have impacted school cafeterias nationwide.
“Students and families may see menu changes or substitutions if certain ingredients are in short supply, at this time we do not anticipate any shortage of food for our students,” the letter to families said.
District officials are closely watching developments on the approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for 5- to 11-year-old children.
Once the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention take action, district officials will work with local and state health experts.