The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education - DESE - issued a memorandum to superintendents, charter school leaders, and leaders of educational collaboratives and approved special education schools to announce the introduction of pooled COVID-19 screening testing to schools in the coming weeks. This Client Alert highlights answers related to the program.
Here is a list of the Orders, Acts, and Guidance referenced in this Alert:
· “Pooled Testing in K-12 Schools” (January 8, 2021), Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, available here.
Q. How does pooled testing work?
A. Once per week all students and staff members are tested. Several test samples are mixed together into pooled samples which are tested with a PCR test to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). The results are delivered within 24 to 48 hours. If a pooled sample result is negative, all of the individuals in the pool are presumed to be negative. If a pooled sample result is positive, every single individual in the pool is required to quarantine until each individual is retested. The follow-up testing for individuals in a positive pool is conducted primarily with the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid point-of-care antigen test.
Q. Is the program free?
A: The program is free during an initial 6-week period. Participating districts and schools will be provided with test kits, support from a testing service provider, and the testing software to track results. After the 6-week launch, districts and schools must purchase the tests and any other accompanying testing materials, software, or support from a statewide contract using their federal stimulus dollars.
Q. What schools are eligible to participate?
A. Districts or schools that provide any type of in-person instruction, whether full-in person, hybrid models, or in-person services for high needs students. Districts and schools that are currently remote but intend to return to in-person learning can also participate. Private and parochial schools cannot participate in the early launch but are eligible to purchase the requisite materials directly from testing service providers.
Q. Must students consent to participate in the pooled testing?
A. Yes. Anyone who participates in the pooled testing must consent. Since the vast majority of students are minors, their parents or guardians will be required to consent prior to participation. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Public Health will provide further information to participating districts and schools regarding obtaining consent.
Q. How can an eligible school participate?
A. The attached memorandum from DESE contains a link to a survey where districts and schools can indicate their interest in participating. The survey must be completed by close of business on January 15, 2021. Further, a January 12, 2021 optional informational webinar about the program is available here.
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