Glencoe schools may require COVID-19 testing starting in the first half of 2021, according to a proposal introduced to the District 35 School Board on Thursday, Nov. 5.
District administration asked the board to expand the pandemic policy to include mandatory health tests for students and staff who participate in in-person instruction.
Board members asked the administration to move forward and present a formal testing plan, including financials and logistics, to the board in December.
Superintendent Dr. Catherine Wang said that it was important to introduce the new policy now so there is time for board review, potential amendments and a decision before winter break.
The district is concerned about holiday travel, as a district-served survey showed many district families and employees plan to leave town — some for high-risk areas, Wang said — over the break.
Additionally, according to county and state metrics, New Trier Township had a COVID-19 positivity rate of 6.5 percent, well up from 3.8 at the beginning of October.
District 35, as of Wednesday, Nov, 4, had three current staff cases and one student case of COVID-19.
The combination of factors had Wang and district administrators looking for the best way to protect the “wellbeing of all children and staff members” while they are present in D35 buildings.
“It’s really more about having options,” she told The Record prior to the meeting. “We don’t have a complete plan for testing protocol. We are investigating options, and the policy gives us flexibility to do that if we can get everything lined up and ready to roll.”
Currently, the district’s Operational Services manual includes a section called Pandemic Preparedness, Management and Recovery. It features subsections like compensation, school closures and board meetings.
The proposal adds a subsection called “In-person Instruction; Required Health Examination — During Times of Pandemic.”
The first draft of text says that with prior notice to parents and guardians, the superintendent may authorize required, “non-invasive” contagious-disease testing for students and staff members, and any students or staff members who do get tested cannot participate in in-school learning.
The copy defines non-invasive tests as a test that “does not require incision, insertion or injection into the body,” and provides saliva-based testing as an example. This is important, Wang said, because the district does not want its nurses administering medical testing and the less-invasive methods are more appropriate for the district’s younger students.
Saliva-based testing is set to begin for New Trier High School students and staff this month; however, the NTHS testing is optional. But participating in the screening program is required for all students taking part in on-campus athletics or extracurricular programs.
District 35 is looking at tests that cost anywhere from $5 to $100 per test. The district has about 1,200 students and 220 staff members.
Before the Dec. 3 meeting, Wang and company will review the options and present a formal proposal to the board for testing that may begin Jan. 20, when students are set to return to the classroom after winter break.