Most schools doing state’s test-and-stay program, but many families haven’t registered

CHELSEA, Mass. — As a school liaison, Yolanda Valles has conversations every day with parents who are skeptical about testing and efforts being made by the district and state to keep kids in school.

“I walk them through it,” Valles said. “Some parents had a bad experience (with testing).”

She has a unique perspective as a parent of a Chelsea senior and district employee. Her daughter is vaccinated and registered in the test-and-stay program at Chelsea High School, very few others are registered, according to the district.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education which provides the program and another testing to districts said many parents agree to opt-in after their child has been deemed a close contact which is raising registration numbers across the state. In Chelsea, only 37 percent of its 6,100 students are registered for Test-and-Stay, according to a spokesman. It is a program touted by state leaders coming into the school year and lauded by neighboring New York State in a recent tweet.

Many states have begun using test and stay though Massachusetts was one of the first states to launch its test and stay program, behind Utah.

More and more school districts nationwide are adopting a test and stay programs in order to keep children in schools. In Massachusetts, if students are a close contact to someone positive for COVID-19 they are tested daily for five days, and if results are negative they remain in school as part of a partial quarantine.

“It’s really important to keep our kids in school as long as we can and make sure that they are staying and learning,” said Almudena Abeyta, Superintendent of Chelsea Schools.

The district has had test-and-stay since the previous school year. This year, over 1,800 schools are participating in the program, according to a DESE spokesperson. CIC Health which helps with testing hired 2,200 people as part of the effort and plans to hire hundreds more DESE added.

One expert says there is a downside to the program, the manpower needed to run it.

“This approach requires many rapid tests and staff at the school to help coordinate test-taking in real-time,” said Professor Mara Aspinall with Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions, who has studied test and stay programs across the country.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association says the state has not committed enough resources to make the testing program as successful as it could be.

“In some places for example educators who are vaccinated but exposed are not eligible for testing in some places there is not enough contact tracing to go along with the testing,” said Merrie Naijimy, President of MTA.

“In too many places the responsibility has fallen on the nurses who are stretched beyond capacity and working into the late evening.”

In Chelsea, COVID infections have been relatively low compared to other districts of its size according to the latest COVID-19 data made available by DESE, though there are concerns at the high school where cases are on the rise, said Abeyta.

As the district works to register more students for tests and stay, it is also trying to get the vaccination rate up for its youngest group, those 5-11 years old. Over 87 percent of students 12-19 are fully vaccinated, according to a district spokesman. There are additional vaccine clinics planned for next year to raise rates for others.

On December 17th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released two reports on the use of test-to-stay and called it a valuable tool to prevent absenteeism and learning loss.

Updated data can be found in the K-12 Transmission Science Brief and on the CDC K-12 pages.

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