School: Weekly test for unvaccinated

School: Weekly test for unvaccinated
Members of the Granville Board of Education discuss COVID-19 protocols amidst rising numbers of positive confirmed cases in Granville and Washington County.

The Granville Board of Education will require weekly mouth-swab testing of all unvaccinated school faculty and staff.

The tests will be conducted by Washington County-contracted group, Quadrant, and superintendent Tom McGurl is hopeful they will arrive in the district next week.

As of Sept. 16, the district had 96 individuals out on quarantine, with nine individuals confirmed positive for COVID-19.

County guidelines state that individuals placed on quarantine are expected to stay at home for 10 days and be tested if they display symptoms of the coronavirus, with the potential of being on quarantine for 14 days.

“Last year when we were nervous about COVID we were just north of 2% (county-wide),” McGurl told the school board at its Sept. 13 meeting.

According to the Washington County Public Health seven-day metrics on Sept. 16, the county rate had dropped from 8% at the time of the meeting to 4.83%.

Although there have not been any issues brought to McGurl or the district of unvaccinated faculty or staff refusing to participate in the weekly test, state guidance says that anyone who does will be sent home without pay.

The board also voted 7-2 in favor of conducting weekly mouth swab COVID-19 tests on all student-athletes, regardless of vaccination status, at the school buildings, supported by the school‘s physician.

Board members Connor Hoagland and Emily Jenkins said “no” in the vote.

“It is not required (by the state or county) to test athletes, but it is something that we’ve talked to Dr. Becker (school physician) about that once Quadrant is online, up and running here in our school district, it’s not something that is an intrusive test, it is not a nasal one where you’re scraping the brain stem, it’s literally a mouth swab that can be done by the student and keep eyes on it,” McGurl said.

McGurl made it abundantly clear via phone call that the school’s priority with testing will be on the unvaccinated faculty and staff first, then the student-athletes.

The tests on student-athletes, which will require a parent or guardian’s authorization, will begin once the district has become situated with the process of testing the staff members.

Junior/Senior High School principal Lisa Meade said during the board meeting that about 20 football players and a few soccer and volleyball players were out of school on quarantine for over a week.

McGurl wanted the decision on student-athletes to be required to test weekly for the virus to be a board discussion and decision due to the anticipated “resistance” of some parents.

“I can certainly handle the political aspect of that, we deal with those phone calls every day, but I don’t think everyone will be willingly on board with that. I think that the evaluation for the board is, is the benefit worth the problems that come with it?” McGurl said.

Board president Audrey Hicks and vice president Shirley Kunen were both in favor of the decision and let their opinions be heard before the board vote.

“If we mandate this, it’s only helping the teams to be able to play longer,” Hicks said.

“I think a lot of parents and students will be willing to do these tests if it means they’ll be able to play,” Kunen said.

However, board member Connor Hoagland felt the decision is “invasive” and that other factors outside of the student-athletes playing that cannot be controlled need to be considered before using the term “required to be tested.”

“I’m not against being proactive, don’t let the optics fool you, but requiring, mandating that every student-athlete be tested is extremely invasive. It’s not being done at the state, county or regional level at this point,” Hoagland said. “Those referees, officials, what about the volunteers that do not work in our district that are coaching? The bus drivers, the media, we’re not asking those individuals the same requirements that our student-athletes are.”

McGurl’s response to Hoagland disagreed.

“We do need to test people that are working with children,” McGurl said.

I don’t necessarily agree and I don’t necessarily believe that anything we can do in the last 17 months is going to mitigate risk,” McGurl said. “My job is to bring to you suggestions of what I see as possibilities of ensuring, or at least helping the student’s safety. I have absolutely no guarantees that this will make a difference whatsoever, zero.”

McGurl replied to board member Ed Vladyka’s question, that there is no concern on the amount or limit of COVID-19 tests from Quadrant once it is up-and-running.

Washington County applied for a COVID-19 related grant in 2020 that would be dispersed to school districts in the county based on district population. Granville was initially slated to receive around $180,000, but due to the mandate for teachers to be tested, Granville received an additional $20,000.

The funds are designated for “testing, supplies, masks, hand sanitizers” and more that fall under the COVID-19 umbrella, according to McGurl.

“It would only make sense if that is used towards that money,” he said.

Additionally, the board approved a “Granville rule” to try to stay ahead of and prevent a potential closure or shutdown.

“Living with vaccinated or unvaccinated (people), if you’re living with someone on quarantine, (within) three to five days, you need to be tested,” McGurl said via phone call.

With the state of the virus today, McGurl added there should no longer be a mentality of “toughing it out” if an individual is feeling under the weather.

“Do not sniffle your way through the day. Stay home,” he said. “I think we not only have to look out for ourselves, we have to look out for our community.”

Also, McGurl advised district parents that are able to, to transport their children to school rather than sending them on the bus due to a large number of cases stemming back to bus transportation.

Before the meeting, the district announced a temporary “soft pull-back” of events and activities, especially with large attendances, to limit the spread and exposure of the virus.

Specifically, the district school buildings are closed to the public during instruction and after school, large staff meetings have been moved to a virtual setting and conferences and meetings at other schools should be avoided. All of the changes are available to be seen on the district’s website, https://granvillecsd.org/.