The Union R-XI School District has hired its first medical specialist to assist with COVID-19 testing.
The district plans to hire three “teams,” each consisting of a testing specialist and an administrative assistant, for dealing with logistical challenges with COVID-19 testing. They are part of the district’s move toward a “test-to-stay” option.
The district received four applications for testing positions, Dr. Justin Tarte, executive director of human resources, told the board of education at its Wednesday meeting. Two of the applicants were offered positions. One applicant accepted, but the other turned the district down.
“We are still seeking more applicants,” he said.
The positions are listed as ending with the 2021-22 school year.
Under test to stay, or Option 4, students who are not vaccinated or wearing masks in a close contact can continue attending class in person but must test negative for COVID-19 three times in the first seven days using rapid antigen tests after close contact with someone who is COVID-19-positive or who is likely positive. The student must wear a face mask for 14 days and not develop COVID-19 symptoms in order to remain in class.
Although they only had one person ready to hire, the board approved hiring up to two COVID-19 testing specialists and up to two administrative assistants, which Tarte said will make it easier for budgeting if people accept the jobs later.
The board approved a test-to-stay option at a special Nov. 2 meeting but agreed it would be phased in due to a lack of staff to complete the testing. Officials said the policy might not be fully implemented until the second semester of school.
Along with Union, the Meramec Valley R-III and St. Clair R-XIII school districts have approved test to stay as an option. The Washington School District has not approved it.
Union R-XI students also have the option of being in quarantine at home for 10 days or of choosing the “test-out” modified seven-day quarantine. That allows students who test negative on the fifth, sixth or seventh days of quarantine to return to class on the eighth day after exposure.
Tarte acknowledged the work the district’s nine nursing team members have done during the pandemic. “They have been facing some unprecedented challenges in the work they have been doing for almost two years, and they are doing a great job,” he said.
With several factors influencing how much the testing specialists are paid, including whether they are a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse, the testing specialists can make anywhere between $16.80 and $26.63 per hour, Tarte said. The administrative assistant pay range is between $11.42 and $14.79 per hour.
Two people spoke against hiring employees related to COVID-19 testing during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“The new hire positions for COVID testing that the board will vote on tonight are the continuation and the exacerbation of the same misguided policies which, for the third consecutive school year, are having measurable negative effects on our children’s education and mental health and massive repercussions on their families,” resident Greg Thornton said.
Filing for the April school board election will be held from Dec. 7-28. Although Tuesday, Dec. 28, falls within the time when district offices are closed for the holidays, the administration building, at 21 Progress Parkway in Union, will be open for last-minute filing from 3-5 p.m.
The positions of board members Karen Tucker and Ben Fox will be on the ballot next year.