Winnetka, News

Winnetka Public Schools adds another testing option to COVID mitigation efforts

Joining New Trier High School and other township feeder schools, Winnetka District 36 is rolling out SHIELD screening in October for families who opt-in to the program. 

If families consent, they are opting in to both the close-contact testing through BinaxNOW, a rapid antigen test, and random COVID screening through SHIELD, a more-reliable PCR test. 

As of Friday, Sept. 24, more than 1,200 students — or 76 percent of D36 families — had chosen to participated in the program, according to the district. 

Asst. Superintendent Kelly Tess explained to the board of education on Tuesday, Sept. 21, that the layered testing is in line with state guidelines and ahead of state protocol. 

The SHIELD testing was approved by the School Board on Sept. 14 as an opt-in program.

In response to parents questioning the district’s mitigations, Board President Dawn Livingston said the priority is to keep as many students in the classroom as possible.

A secondary goal, she said, is to maintain low COVID-19 numbers within the district in the case that local control over COVID mitigations is granted by the state. COVID-19 metrics within New Trier Township are consistently less severe than those in the greater suburban-county region, which the state and county use to determine transmission designations.

The region’s designation, which is now “high,” has an effect on how school districts can test and quarantine students.

“Everything we are doing is to keep kids in school and have continuity for them right now,” Livingston said on Sept. 21, “and position ourselves to be able to exercise local authority once that has been permitted by the state.”

According to district documentation, the BinaxNOW antigen test is used to test asymptomatic, unvaccinated students or staff members who were in close contact to a school-related positive COVID-19 case.

At this point, Tess said, D36 has only administered a handful of BinaxNOW tests.

SHIELD testing, which involves submitting saliva in a container, will be used to screen unvaccinated students who have opted in to the program. The district’s communications coordinator, Kate Hughes, said the district plans to administer weekly tests to “half to all who have consented.”

Ninety-four percent of the district’s students who are 12 or older are vaccinated, and so are 98 percent of its staff members.

Vaccinated students are not included in the testing process, but “there will likely be a future opportunity where we will be able to provide a SHIELD PCR test to a vaccinated child with symptoms,” according to district documentation.

Before the SHIELD program begins, Hughes said the district will communicate the schedule and process with parents. 

SHIELD testing is provided to school for free by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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