ECDOH announces test-to-stay pilot program with Grand Island Central School District

Grand Island Schools District Office.JPG
Posted at 2:22 PM, Nov 29, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) announced a test-to-stay pilot program with the Grand Island Central School District.

According to the ECDOH, it met with superintendents from Erie 1 BOCES, Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES and the president of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association in November to present a test-to-stay program opportunity.

A list of school districts that met a series of criteria that would make them a good candidate for a pilot program was then compiled. The criteria included:

  • Sufficient number of active COVID-19 cases;
  • Student population that would yield a solid set of data;
  • The ability to offer COVID-19 testing through a Limited Service License.

ECDOH said it approached the Grand Island Central School District as a candidate and superintendent Dr. Brian Graham and the Grand Island CSD Board of Education agreed to it.

The test-to-stay pilot program will begin as an option for the district's k-12 students on December 6. Buffalo Homecare, Inc. has been contracted by the district to provide staff for testing and data entry.

7ABC learned there is growing momentum for Test to Stay (TTS).

School continuity is the focal point for Grand Island School District officials.

"Keeping them in school through the Test-To-Stay pilot will be essential to the continuity of academics, social and emotional growth, to access to food and nutrition and access to mental health support for kids," Grand Island Central School District superintendent of schools, Dr. Brian Graham said.

As part of a modified quarantine, K-12 students who are not fully vaccinated and have been exposed to COVID-19, within the school, have to get a rapid test before school each day.

"Their parents will have the option to stay in quarantine or choose to be part of the Test-To-Stay pilot. If the parent chooses to have the Test-To-Stay pilot, we're partnering with Buffalo Homecare where they will provide medical professionals in our schools everyday," Dr. Graham said.

While there has been a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in Erie County kids under 18, Dr. Graham said about 98% of Grand Island students were healthy throughout quarantine.
"In our district, we've had since September, we've had over 400 students who have had to quarantine and many of those students have had to quarantine more than once. Imagine, if you're a parent, how disruptive that is to your family, to your ability to provide childcare and go to work," Dr. Graham added.

Broadly, in a school using TTS, k-12 students who are not fully vaccinated and close contacts of a COVID-19 case from a school exposure would have a rapid COVID-19 test before each school day as part of a modified quarantine. Students with a household exposure would not be eligible, nor would school staff. The student would attend school that day if their test result was negative. A positive test result would mean the student is excluded from school and placed in isolation at home, ECDOH explained in its announcement.

COVID-19 antigen tests will be provided using resources from an $18 million federal grant that has been allocated for school testing and vaccination, according to the ECDOH.

However, Dr. Graham said more needs to be done at the state level to ensure the entire state follows this lead.

"Myself and other superintendents in Erie County and Niagara County are advocating to the governor for her influence with the New York State Department of Health to activate them to support Test to Stay throughout the entire state. At this time, the New York State Department of Health is passing that on to local health departments to make the decision but they're not helping," Dr. Graham told Pheben Kassahun.

Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein released a statement Monday, stating:

Superintendent feedback was instrumental in moving this Test to Stay program forward. This approach will require a substantial investment of time and resources from our department and individual schools and administrators. To do it right, we have to find out what works, how we can improve, and what our schools can expect. And with more than two dozen school districts, dozens of private schools and more than 130,000 k-12 students in Erie County, a countywide launch is simply not feasible. A pilot program is the best first step forward.
- ECDOH Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein

Western New York Education Alliance founder, Tarja Parssinen said, "What the state needs to do now, however, what Governor Hochul needs to do now is really to help it get ruled out to all the districts is to get the resources going and help schools do this."

Western New York Education Alliance is a research-driven organization focused on improving education through advocacy, community engagement and strategic partnerships.

Parssinen said this move from Grand Island is great.

Parssinen told Kassahun via Zoom, "Western New York Education Alliance has been advocating for the Test to Stay program since August. We've been doing lots of research on it. There's lots of good science behind it showing that it's the safe scientific thing to do to keep healthy students in class."

She and Dr. Graham hope the data will be influential in allowing the program to scale across Western New York in the future.

This afternoon, about 15 Western New York superintendents signed a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul advocating for the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to partner with all schools in the state to implement a "Test to Stay" program.

Parssinen said those who weren't on the list are disappointing.

"Superintendent Cash's comments about Test to Stay and the fact that he is still very reserved about it, that is very disappointing because all students need to be treated equally and fairly and the students in the Buffalo Public Schools district," Parssinen said. "He needs to trust the science behind it and know that it is safe."