Topeka Public Schools launching rapid testing, staying remote

(Production Control | WIBW)
Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 7:00 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka Public Schools will remain in remote learning for at least another week, and return in-person for the final week and a half before Christmas break - unless COVID-19 cases start trending back up.

Aarion Gray, USD 501′s Director of Instructional Services, shared the news on the additional remote week in an email to parents Thursday evening, and noted additional discussion would take place at Thursday night’s board meeting. He said many staff and students continue to test positive for COVID-19, and the Shawnee Co. Community Transmission Scorecard remains in the red “uncontrolled” rating.

“Therefore, we will be unable to adequately staff all schools and ensure a safe learning environment next week,” Gray wrote.

In discussion at Thursday’s board meeting about whether to make an immediate decision on whether to return students in-person before Christmas break, board members were told that, since returning from Thanksgiving, more than 30 additional staff have tested positive.

Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson told the board they hope to give families early notification on what format learning will take so they can make plans for child care and work. Several board members expressed hesitation with returning to in-person learning in December at all, with the county still in the red “uncontrolled” zone. However, they would feel comfortable having kids in class if the county progresses to the “orange” zone by next week.

Also Thursday night, Dr. Anderson announced a partnership with the Kansas Dept. of Education that will allow the district to launch a pilot program, offering COVID rapid testing for families. Priority will go to high-risk students and staff, and schools with a high special needs index. Staff will be trained next week, and participation in the testing is optional.

The exact schools still are being identified, with further details expected next week. Anderson said district leaders are working with KDHE and the Shawnee Co. Health Dept. on addition protocol, such as when follow-up screening may be needed, and to what extent elementary-level students would be included, since there are concerns the rapid testing may not be as accurate in younger populations.

The board also is set to discuss with district schools may begin basketball competition, and under what restrictions. A similar discussion was to take place regarding fine arts activities.

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