Unvaccinated students who attend Jefferson County schools and participate in track and field and other extracurricular activities must begin mandatory weekly COVID testing this week.
The edict is part of the Jefferson County Public Health Authority published on August 16 which also required all students and staff to wear masks. All unvaccinated staff should also participate in weekly COVID testing.
High schools recently informed families who participate in sports and other activities such as an orchestra or choir that they must provide their student’s immunization status. The district said it finalized the testing implementation plan last week.
Scaling up COVID testing for students and staff at JeffCo has been tricky.
At a board meeting on Thursday, the district said of its 13,000 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, more than 10,000 had submitted their immunization status. Some of the 3,000 who did not may not have submitted their status because they work seasonally and have not started yet.
Superintendent Tracy Dorland said scaling up regular COVID testing in a district the size of Jefferson County, with 84,000 students and 14,000 employees, has been a challenge.
But the district is teaming up with the state’s health department to contract with a third party to perform on-site testing in high schools at a total of 18 sites.
“Our goal was to make the task as easy and transparent as possible for our employees and students who might need to do it,” Dorland said.
The test, which will be paid for with federal funds, can also be used for other students who, for example, are not feeling well and may want a test.
“They’ll know pretty quickly that they don’t have COVID, and if they wake up and feel good, ‘Come back to school, kid’, because we want our students to be in school,” she declared. “I don’t want healthy kids who don’t have COVID to stay at home. “
Facing a room filled with parents opposed to weekly COVID testing, Dorland said the district is legally bound to follow public health mitigation strategies.
At last week’s board meeting, several parents called on the school board to publicly oppose the health ministry’s order.
They called the order to test unvaccinated students discriminatory, arbitrary and capricious.
“An unvaccinated student who takes physical education class but does not play football is not required to be tested,” said Susan Miller Youll, a parent in Lakewood of a student athlete. “If he takes physical education classes during the school day and plays football after school, he has to be tested. Does it make sense? Is it based on health? “
Parent Joshua Romero, after reciting a long list of issues he sees with wearing masks, vaccines and testing, said his children should not be denied access to fund-funded facilities public or other resources “because they will not inflict harm on themselves”.
“I want to thank you for shattering my son’s dreams of being a professional athlete because he doesn’t want to hurt himself every week,” he told the board, referring the rapid COVID test that the district will use.
Others feared that choosing children for testing would make them feel ashamed.
“It’s not true,” mother Beth Parker said. “It is wrong because the children have won and deserve the right to go to school and participate in activities normally without the arm of an appointed official trying to push them aside in a way that does not fit. not produced in other countries. “
She said it only serves to punish the children.
Testing for after-school programs is one way to protect in-person learning, school officials say
At the board meeting, Dorland acknowledged that she had a respectful difference of opinion with the county health board on the matter. She said she believes extracurricular activities and after-school clubs are an essential part of public education, while the health department’s priority is academic learning in person.
“And they don’t want us to jeopardize in-person learning, because of the extracurricular activities that students could participate in and then potentially spread COVID,” she said.
In announces the orderDr. Dawn Comstock, executive director of the Jefferson County Department of Health, said protecting in-person learning is a goal shared by parents, school leaders and public health officials.
“Keeping kids in school is something we all want, and with a few simple but important steps we can preserve this next school year for our young Jeffcoes. “
Superintendent Dorland said the district has been pushing the county health department for “goals” – measures and targets – that the district must meet before restrictions can be lifted and “return to normal.”
“We are not getting clear answers from public health on this issue,” she said. “I think we should continue to push public health for some really clear metrics as to when some of these mitigation strategies can be removed.”