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Education

Austin ISD will use focused COVID testing to try to keep schools open

A student behind a partition wears a mask in a classroom
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Austin ISD wants to minimize learning loss during the pandemic through a targeted COVID testing system.

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Austin ISD will use a CDC-approved testing strategy to try to keep students and staff safe from COVID as the spring semester begins.

AISD implemented the strategy, called Test-To-Stay, last semester. To minimize absenteeism and learning loss, people exposed to someone who tests positive are tested on the third and fifth days after exposure. If they are negative, they can stay in school — rather than quarantining for a week — if they continue to wear a mask.

AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said the strategy is one of the biggest tools the district has as schools reopen during the COVID surge after winter break.

"Kiddos need our schools open,” she said. “They need our services academically, emotionally. I also respect parents that may have some unusual circumstances and may need to keep their children home. Those will obviously be excused absences and we'll provide support as we can."

AISD will continue to use this practice as positive cases are reported, rather than sending all the students in a class home.

The omicron variant is highly contagious, so it's possible several teachers could call out sick and be unable to work. Since AISD is already facing a substitute shortage, Elizalde said central office staff with teaching backgrounds could be called in in these situations to serve as substitutes.

“Tomorrow morning, I may be teaching science or math at a high school,” she said.

Elizalde said parents will also need to stay alert to any communication about modified bus routes in case bus drivers get sick. As of Tuesday afternoon, all bus drivers had reported they would be working Wednesday.

AISD hosted free testing for students and staff Monday and Tuesday and saw a 14% positivity rate. Of the 2,639 people tested, 384 tested positive for COVID.

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