This week the East Longmeadow School Committee voted to begin a COVID test-and-stay program for staff and students. The program allows anyone who is in “close contact” with the virus to avoid quarantining by agreeing to a nasal-swab test for a minimum of five straight days.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has published a lengthy guide to the program. Here are a few key points from the guide that every East Longmeadow parent should know:

Can public school districts mandate COVID-19 testing?

No, participation in testing is optional and parents/guardians must provide informed consent to participate in the program.

How does DESE recommend that schools/districts acquire consent?

DESE strongly recommends sending consent forms electronically. Additionally, DESE recommends that the consent form for testing and sample parent letter is included with other back-to-school materials that must be signed by caregivers prior to the school year.

Can consent be “opt out” – that is, all students are automatically consented and parent/guardians must actively retract their consent?

No, parent/guardians must actively consent to participate in testing. Since the process involves collecting a sample directly from individuals, parents/guardians must provide informed consent for all testing

Are students and staff allowed to self-swab with the BinaxNOW rapid tests used for Symptomatic or Test and Stay?

Yes. Like routine COVID safety checks, staff and students in grades Kindergarten and up may self-administer the swab while observed by trained staff. Trained staff must conduct the test procedure itself (insert and turn the swab, close the card, and read and report the result). Please see question 11 for more detail.

To read the guide in its entirety, click the download below:

The image below is DESE’s consent form template:

So what’s considered a “close contact”? The criteria is outlined in the CDC’s graphic below:

For more details, go to the CDC’s webpage.

The committee rejected DESE’s recommendation of pooled testing which would require all unvaccinated students to be subjected to routine testing regardless of other circumstances.

Of course, no school committee member voiced any concern about the physical or psychological harm that such testing may cause for schoolchildren.