In a sometimes contentious special meeting last week, the Union R-XI School District Board of Education agreed to add “test to stay” as an option to the district’s 10-day COVID-19 quarantine policy.
Students who were not vaccinated or wearing masks in a close contact in so-called Option 4 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 a close contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive or likely positive. The student must wear a face mask for 14 days and not develop COVID-19 symptoms to remain in class.
The student cannot attend in-person class if he or she shares a home with the close contact.
With most students now eligible for vaccination, fully vaccinated students will be allowed to stay in class without testing unless they are symptomatic, though they have to wear a mask and be monitored for 14 days.
Students in extracurricular activities who have a close contact will be required to have a negative test the day of their game or other competition to be able to compete.
With limited staff to conduct the tests currently, the test-to-stay option will be introduced on a tiered basis. Superintendent Dr. Scott Hayes initially said full implementation of the plan would not take place until the second semester, but board members left the wording open-ended to allow it to go into effect before the end of the fall semester, if possible.
The approval from Union’s school board leaves the Washington School District, where a motion to approve test to stay as an option in the district died for lack of a second at an Oct. 27 board meeting, as the only major Franklin County district to not implement the option. According to previous Missourian reporting, the option was made available for district approval in Franklin County by the health department last month and has been approved by Meramec Valley R-III and St. Clair R-XIII.
To help with the testing, Union R-XI is looking to fill six jobs — three medical specialists and three clerical positions. The positions are listed as ending with the 2021-22 school year.
“We have not had a lot of traction on that yet, but it was still fresh,” Hayes said of the jobs, which were posted to the school’s website Oct. 31, two days before the Nov. 2 meeting. “But we would not be able to move forward on a large scale until we were able to have that team put together.”
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.
As of Tuesday’s meeting, 70 percent of Union R-XI students who were close contacts chose the standard 10-day quarantine, Hayes said. But of the 30 percent who took tests, 17 percent of those came back as asymptomatic positive COVID cases.
Board member Matt Borgmann said the number of kids who test to stay is likely to be a similarly low percentage, which could mean the district may get by hiring fewer than six new people.
After Dave Aguilar, who had five children in the district, said board members with “conflicts of interest” should resign, board member Matt Borgmann fought back.
‘“I was threatened several months ago in a comment somebody in here made on Facebook,” Borgmann said after Aguilar accused him of laughing during Aguilar’s eight-minute speech. “Yes, it is sort of laughable because I feel like I have a position here to stand up for those other people out there also. Because I don’t think anybody should be threatened or harassed and forced to resign from their position that they feel strongly about and support. That is why I’m here.”
Aguilar then accused Borgmann of having a conflict of interest because his wife is a physician.
“That’s medical advice coming in that you get in your ear that would push you to push certain things here at this board meeting,” Aguilar said.
Borgmann responded that is no different than hearing advice from someone with “zero medical interest.”
“I understand both sides of the facts. I truly do,” Borgmann said. “I have no conflict of interest up here on anything. I have my beliefs up here as a parent in this district with five kids, just like yourself. And I’m passionate on what I believe is right, too, whether they agree with you or not. That is just the way they are. Everybody has a right to their own opinions on what is going on.”
Aguilar, one of two people to speak during the public comment portion of the 40-minute meeting, interrupted the board’s conversation as it neared its vote, first saying members should be discussing the “strings attached” to federal funding to pay for the new employees and testing. Board President Dr. Virgil Weideman told Aguilar the board was not in “open discussion.”
Weideman said one advantage of the test-to-stay option is it will allow students to be tested at school instead of parents having to pay for testing. “Plus, it’s an option for kids to stay in school,” he said. “That’s the thing I like about it, even though it’s a hassle, and I don’t know that we’ll be able to get the personnel that we need or how fast we’ll get them, but it is an option that’s worth doing everything we can to make it work because it’s best for kids.”
Borgmann pointed out much will be changing with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization for COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11.
“As more of these kids get vaccinated and there’s less and less contact and more of these cases go (away), it’s going to be less of a problem,” he said.