DAGSBORO — After hearing mounting objection to Delaware’s in-school mask mandate Monday, Indian River School District’s board of education did not act on a pitch for free voluntary COVID-19 testing in its facilities.
During discussion, the “Test to Stay” proposal brought to the board was labeled by one member as discriminatory and as a power play by the state.
“I think this is a ridiculous program,” board member James Fritz continued. “It is basically a strong-arm attempt (by) the state to force vaccination to children for families who see it as the easier option out.”
The testing initiative — a partnership between the Division of Public Health, the Department of Education and the Quidel Corp. — involves Quidel staff conducting COVID-19 tests in person, analyzing the results and reporting them to families and the state, taking the burden off schools. Participants would have to opt in.
“As you are aware, DPH and the Department of Education are recommending weekly testing for unvaccinated … students and staff as a mitigation strategy,” said IRSD Superintendent Dr. Jay Owens. “In order for staff to take advantage of this, per Quidel, we first must offer this to our students.”
The voluntary tests are only for staff and students who are asymptomatic. Any student or staff member who has symptoms should stay home and get tested outside of school. If a child is vaccinated, they do not need to participate in weekly antigen testing, according to state recommendations. Typically, the tests are given to unvaccinated individuals, but those who are vaccinated would not be turned away.
After none of the eight school board members moved to vote on the testing program during Monday’s meeting, board president Rodney Layfield said, “Then, our silence is our action.”
According to the state, the initiative is meant to test asymptomatic staff and students. The program allows individuals who were identified as a first contact of a positive case to be able to attend school daily, provided they are tested by Quidel each day and receive negative results.
“Rather than quarantining these individuals (who are exposed), they would have the opportunity to go to a testing location,” said IRSD assistant superintendent Karen Blannard, who spoke to the board about the proposal Monday.
Mr. Fritz outlined his opposition.
“To be clear, this is not an Indian River School District program. This is coming down from the Department of Health and Social Services. This is another government strong-arm for our kids,” he said. “It’s based on strong-arm. It’s not based on science. Again, if you don’t sign up (in advance), you don’t get to participate. You then have to go home and quarantine (if you are exposed to a positive case). How many parents don’t get proper notice? How many don’t speak proper English? Many problems.”
He added, “To me, when you are talking about people that like to talk down or mention about nondiscriminating, this whole program creates nothing but discrimination. It says that if you are vaccinated, you don’t have to take a test. So now, we’ve separated families that decide to get vaccinated from those that don’t decide to get vaccinated based on their own religious and medical beliefs.”
Board member Dr. Donald Hattier agreed.
“I personally believe that we should not be in the testing business, and this is not a good move for us,” he said. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
Antigen testing protocol
The process for the Test to Stay program is as follows:
Students enrolled in the Test to Stay program must meet the following criteria to return to school: Show no symptoms; correctly wear a mask indoors when at school; test negative daily during the school week; and continue to quarantine when not at school (if he/she has been exposed).
As outlined, the program would also offer testing 4-7 p.m. daily at two testing sites in the district.
“We’re going to be dividing people among, I will say, economic guidelines,” said Mr. Fritz. “We have a number of kids that go home to nobody in the household. Who is going to take them to get tested? Who has time to go get their child tested every night, five nights in a row? Gasoline, as much as it is, some families can’t afford to be driving their kids to get tested. I know that sounds crazy to some people, but it’s reality for a lot of people.”
During public commentary, Selbyville resident Dr. Molli Carter, who has spoken out against mandatory masking since the August board meeting, called the Test to Stay program a joke.
“DPH continues to make you pawns in their fight against coronavirus, and they continue to hold the education of our children hostage,” said Dr. Carter, a mother of two children in the district. “Now, they say it is OK not to quarantine as long as you test negative. That makes sense except that isn’t good enough. They want districts to enroll in a testing program run in schools, and they want parents to sign their children up. ... Oh, and they need mask compliance. Only then does testing negative mean you don’t have to quarantine. This is such a joke. And a school board somewhere needs to say enough.”
Dr. Hattier again voiced his displeasure over the lack of response from the state to his questions, specifically by DPH Director Dr. Karryl Rattay.
“I have sent many notices to Dr. Rattay asking her to clarify why the unvaccinated needed to be tested when the vaccinated can just as easily get this and pass it on, which has been proven throughout the United States. That, just because you’re vaccinated — yes, you may stand a better chance of living if you get the disease — but as far as passing it on to other people, it doesn’t happen that way. You still pass it on. So if we’re going to be testing people, test everybody,” he said.
Dr. Hattier continued, “They absolutely refuse to respond. I have not had a response from Dr. Rattay now in months. She basically ignores what we are doing. We’re talking about following the science. The science says that whoever you are, no matter what, you are going to pass it on. Either test everybody or knock it off.”
The Test to Stay program is offered through a grant from CDC. As of late November, 220 schools are geared to launch testing Monday with over 31,130 students and staff opting in. The deadline for districts to participate is flexible, and they can sign up at any time, even after the startup date.
“My father had a 10th-grade education,” said Dr. Hattier. “Dad had a saying, ‘It sounds good if you say it fast.’ Quite frankly, a lot of what the government is saying right now sounds good if you say it fast. But when you take time to dig into it, it’s not really all that terribly good. My dad, a 10th-grade-educated Army sergeant, had more common sense than half the people in Dover.”
Mr. Fritz added, “I would also question: What if we don’t send kids home (for quarantine)? What is the state going to do? Are they physically going to come down and close the buildings? Great, let’s get the news over here and report it.”