Q&A: School-based COVID-19 testing and microcluster colored zones

One element of the state’s strategy to combat COVID-19 has been the Micro-Cluster Initiative. This is a system of designating certain areas as a Yellow, Orange or Red zone based on the prevalence of COVID-19. These zones come with certain restrictions and protocols designed to limit the spread of the virus, including school-based COVID testing.

Related: Letter to parents about school-based COVID-19 testing | Link to consent form

We are preparing for this by offering parents two scenarios:

  1. You can give your consent for testing at school; OR
  2. You can agree that you will take your child to be tested and share the results with the school within 7 days.

Why is the district preparing to test students and staff for COVID-19?

Based on current trends, it appears possible that our area will be part of one of the state’s designated zones (Yellow, Orange or Red) based on the prevalence of COVID-19. Current guidelines call for schools to test a percentage of students and staff members over a given time period if they would like to remain open for in-person instruction. Schools could be allowed to remain open depending how positivity rates of on-site students and staff compare with rates in the greater community. Our goal is to remain open for in-person instruction for our students.

How do I give consent for my child to be tested?

Please complete the following form: https://www3.ffcsd.org/screening/index-consent.php.

Can I have my child tested outside of school?

Yes, this is an option on our consent form: https://www3.ffcsd.org/screening/index-consent.php.  A parent/guardian may have their child tested outside of the school as long as they agree to share the results with the school within 7 days of being randomly selected.

What kind of tests will be used?

These tests are not the deep-sinus swabs that some individuals have found uncomfortable. In-school tests would be fast and painless, with results known within 15 minutes. The tests would be performed by swabbing the lower portion of a student’s nostrils.

How often would my child be tested?

A different group is tested each month, so unless current guidance changes, the most an in-person learner would be tested would be once every few months.

How will we know if the district is in a designated yellow, orange or red micro-cluster zone?

If FFCS is placed into a micro-cluster zone, the district will use existing internal and external communications channels to notify staff, students and families with as much advance notice as possible. Families will be notified with an all-call and an email. If you do not receive notifications from FFCS, please contact the main office of your child’s school to update your contact information. View a map of COVID hot spot zones by address.

What happens if our district is placed in a yellow zone?

IF our geographical region is designated as a yellow, orange or red zone, at this time, FFCS will pivot to remote instruction for all students until our testing process is up and running. We are currently working to secure testing supplies and to establish protocols for tracking and reporting results. Our goal is to keep our school buildings open. Schools can remain open if they are placed into a “yellow zone” but there is a mandatory weekly testing requirement to keep schools open. If the testing parameters and/or capacity cannot be met, school building(s) will be required to close for in-person classes and will pivot to remote instruction.

Will teachers/administrators/staff report to work if we are in a yellow zone?

Yes, there is no prohibition on staff reporting, other than abiding by the district’s current COVID-19 safety and health guidance (wearing masks, participating in daily health screenings, maintaining and encouraging a social distance where possible, etc.).

What happens if our district is placed in an orange or red zone?

If the district is placed into an orange or red zone, we will pivot to remote instruction only.

How will individuals be randomly selected for COVID-19 testing?

Students and staff will be assigned random numbers using a random number generator and then sorted into five groups representing 20% of the district’s in-person population.

How will families, faculty and staff be notified if they are randomly selected to be a part of the random testing population?

The district will communicate to each randomly selected group prior to the week of their testing through email. Parents are asked to complete a testing consent form now, in advance of any zone designation. Please note that we would not conduct any testing without advance notice.

Where will the district’s testing site be located?

Testing will be conducted in the elementary school gym.

Can I be present while my child is tested?

Parents and guardians may not be present during testing during the school day as we must limit the number of people within our school buildings. If your child is selected for testing, they will be allowed to phone you afterwards for a check in.

Will remote teachers or students be required to be tested?

No, remote teachers or students are currently excluded from having to be tested since they are not conducting or receiving in-person instruction in the building.

What kind of COVID-19 test will be used?

The district will use Abbott BinaxNOW tests. They are non-invasive, rapid screening tools. All test takers (or parents, in the case of students) will be asked to complete a consent form prior to testing. Parents and staff members are asked to complete a testing consent form now, in advance of any zone designation. Please note that we would not conduct any testing without advance notice. There will be no cost for these tests.

What happens if a parent or student does not consent to having a COVID-19 test?

The student will not be tested.

How will testing results be shared?

Individual results for the non-invasive, short-swab nasal tests are read 15 minutes after the test is administered. Negative results will be conveyed to parents by email. Positive results will be communicated by phone immediately. Test results will be shared with the NYS Department of Health through a secure portal.