June 9, 2023

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Blue Valley asymptomatic testing stirs controversy

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A local pediatrician is questioning the logic behind a Blue Valley School District initiative that tests asymptomatic students for COVID-19. 

“Why in the world would I ever put my asymptomatic kid in a position to be sent home inappropriately? I’ve fought for the last nine months to get her back in school,” Dr. Christine White wrote in a Facebook post. The Overland Park pediatrician fears school officials will use data collected from testing asymptomatic kids to quarantine students and shutter classrooms. 

Respiratory viruses spread by symptomatic people, she explained.

“With all this in mind, I ask again why does Blue Valley want this information on our children? I believe it is to show a certain level of (mainly false) positive PCR tests, and then they can prolong the time our children will be required to wear a mask, social distance, have their temps taken and other unnecessary actions that just increase our children’s fear and anxiety about their world,” she wrote.

Blue Valley officials say the initial motive for testing asymptomatic students was to find metrics that supported reopening for in-person, full-time learning.

“If our rates were low enough, could we justify getting kids back even if we weren’t in green,” explained Mark Schmidt, assistant superintendent of special education at the Blue Valley School District.

The local school board adopted Kansas State Board of Education guidance to determine when to return kids to classrooms last fall. The color-coded system used a series of metrics, like community positivity rates, to greenlight a return to in-person learning. Until shortly before spring break, metrics put the district in yellow. Elementary kids attended in person, and the school provided hybrid learning options for older students.

As originally conceived, the asymptomatic testing program would nasal swab or saliva-test students at school. White says schools are not medical providers.

“For a school to start testing large numbers of children for infection is a whole new level of medical care that is not their job or their place,” she said. 

White says parents administering the tests is better than the district administering them. 

“If the child is moderately to severely ill, they can visit their physician, and the physician can assess them and prescribe a course of treatment,” she said. “Asymptomatic children don’t go to their doctors, because there is no reason to do so.”

Participation in the program is voluntary, district says

Two things changed the course of the testing program. First, officials needed enough parents to voluntarily opt into the testing program to garner statistically significant results. Parents voluntarily allowed approximately 5,400 students to opt in, far short of the numbers necessary to provide statistically relevant data. Second, county metrics started moving in the right direction to allow for full-time, in-person learning. 

The Blue Valley School Board in February decided to open classrooms to all students after spring break.

Rather than testing random students at school as initially planned, the program offered testing kits for parents to administer the tests at home. 

Of the 5,400 students in the program, the district collected 1,802 results from at-home tests a few weeks ago. Two elementary students, of 981 elementary kids tested, received positive COVID results. All of the middle and high school students tested negative for COVID. The two positive cases required some elementary students to quarantine, but not enough to disrupt classroom learning.

Schmidt said the district required parental consent. Parents opted their children into the program via a form sent home with students. And since parents administered the tests at home, they had a second opportunity to decline by simply throwing the test away.

The district soon will send another set of testing supplies home with some students who opted into the testing program. That will be the last testing cycle, according to Schmidt.

The opt-in form for the testing program says it expires on June 30. School officials say they do not plan to continue the program next year.

Blue Valley also upset parents recently in their handling of COVID restriction complaints.

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