All Jefferson County Public Schools students participating in athletics and other regular extracurricular activities will have to get tested for COVID-19 every week starting Nov. 1.
The Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously approved the new policy, known as “Test to Play,” at a special meeting Thursday afternoon. Students, including those who are vaccinated, will need to get their parents’ consent for the weekly testing and will not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities without a negative result.
Public comment was not allowed at the special meeting after a shouting match between supporters and opponents of police in schools shut down the Board of Education’s regular meeting on Tuesday.
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio recommended the new rule, telling the board it balances public health concerns and student needs.
“Every step we take to mitigate this virus, I think, increases the adults we have in school that aren’t quarantined and increases the likelihood that we stay in school and let our students learn,” he said.
Pollio said extracurricular activities that will require testing include all athletics programs, as well as academic teams and after-school clubs.
JCPS students participating in extracurricular activities will have the option to get an FDA-approved rapid antigen test at school. Otherwise, they can get their weekly test from a licensed health care provider. At-home and antibody tests will not be accepted.
District 6 Board Member Corrie Shull said he feels the “Test to Play” policy doesn’t go far enough and asked why vaccinations aren’t being required for student athletes.
“There’s really no excuse for having such a low population of students vaccinated,” Shull said. “We need to do everything we can to encourage vaccination of staff and students in order to make our buildings as safe as possible and these teams safe as possible.”
According to state data, 46% of 12- to 15-year-olds and 51% of 16- and 17-year-olds have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
Board approves “Test to Stay” policy
The Board of Education also approved another COVID-19 mitigation policy known as “Test to Stay.”
The policy will allow students and staff who have had close contact with someone infected with COVID-19 to continue in-person schooling as long as they undergo daily testing. To qualify, the student or staff member must be completely asymptomatic and wear a mask indoors. They would not be eligible if they live with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and cannot quarantine away from that person.
Like the “Test to Play” program, students will need their parents’ permission to participate.
District 7 Board Member Sarah McIntosh said she’s concerned some children may miss out based on their parents’ decisions.
“So many of our kids need their sports, so many of our kids need their clubs and groups and things like that,” McIntosh said. “I’m hearing from a lot of parents that are just flat refusing, for one reason or another, to allow their students to be tested.”
Pollio said he understood some parents’ hesitation around vaccinations, but there’s no reason to oppose testing.
The new policy requires students and staff to get screened for COVID-19 every night for seven days after exposure. High schools and middle schools will offer free testing after the school day ends, according to JCPS. Students and staff can also get testing from any other licensed health care provider.
If someone with an exposure chooses not to participate in the new program, they will have to quarantine for 7-10 days, with the duration of the quarantine depending on whether they are asymptomatic and receive a negative COVID-19 test. Students and staff who are fully-vaccinated and asymptomatic or who had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days and recovered will not have to quarantine.
There are currently 1,156 JCPS students in quarantine, according to Pollio.
Vaccine incentives for teachers
The Board of Education also voted to offer full- and part-time JCPS employees a $200 incentive payment if they are vaccinated.
The Kentucky Department of Education announced last month that it is planning to offer a $100 vaccination incentive using roughly $8.8 million in emergency relief funds. JCPS plans to match that state incentive using some of the $578 million it’s expected to receive from the federal American Rescue Plan Act
School employees will be eligible for the one-time payment if they get vaccinated by Dec. 1. Those who are already vaccinated are also eligible.