PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As Rhode Island public school students begin returning to classrooms after the holiday break, a majority of districts plan to take part in a new program to test students and teachers during the school day.
The state is using Abbott BinaxNOW rapid tests for the statewide school testing program, which is being offered to every district following a December pilot program at select schools in Providence, Central Falls and Lincoln.
The R.I. Department of Education asked school districts to sign up for either a one-time testing event, ongoing school-based testing or both. The one-time event would be administered by the state, testing all students and staff for COVID-19 once students return to in-person learning this month, while the school-based testing would involve giving a district regular allotments of the Binax tests to administer themselves.
Providence, for example, is opting to test students and staff twice a month for the rest of the semester, according to RIDE. A letter from Superintendent Harrison Peters to families says students will be tested for COVID upon return to the school. In-person learning is reopening on a staggered basis in Providence starting on Monday.
The Binax tests are self-swabbed, and take as little as 15 minutes to get results.
A total of 36 school districts, public charters and state-run schools — known as “local education agencies” — opted for the state testing events, which are starting to be scheduled at schools during January and February. Among them, 30 of the LEAs opted for the school-based testing, and 16 signed up for both.
Only two school districts — Lincoln and Scituate — declined to participate in the program for now.
Lincoln Superintendent Lawrence Filippelli said while the pilot program at Lincoln Middle School went well in December, he didn’t feel it was worth continuing to take students out of class for COVID testing, which would also require a lot of the staff.
“You’re draining already scarce resources,” Filippelli said. “It’s going to be incumbent upon school nurses, it’s going to be incumbent upon school administration.”
He said the pilot program involved a large number of state staffers from the R.I. Department of Health and the Education Operations Center, which would likely not be available at the same level once the program goes statewide.
“We don’t have that many cases,” Filippelli said. “The kids need every instructional minute they can possibly get in school.”
No students tested positive during the pilot, which was held at Lincoln Middle School, the school with the least number of known COVID cases in the district thus far, according to state data. Principal James Williamson said 47 students were tested out of 202 that were in school on the first day of the testing event.
The second day of the testing in Lincoln was cancelled due to the snow day a week before Christmas. Since the middle school is operating on an alternating schedule, a new cohort of students would have been tested that day, in addition to 67 faculty members.
Scituate Superintendent Laurie Andries did not immediately respond to an email about why that town also opted out.
It’s possible that districts will change their minds as the semester progresses. Multiple districts were listed as “considering” one of the testing options in a list of sign-ups provided by RIDE.
Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green urged parents to check with their districts for more details on the COVID testing dates. The testing is voluntary, and requires parental consent.
“Every district is going to do it differently because it takes manpower,” Infante-Green said in an interview. “They might be doing one grade at a time, two or three grades, the whole school. It’ll all depend on the district.”
State leaders encouraged districts to do remote learning to start out the week after the holiday break. Some districts are planning to return to the classroom in-person on Wednesday, while the majority are scheduled to return next week, though many are still doing a hybrid model of in-person learning.
Below is a list of Rhode Island’s public school districts, public charters and state-run schools and which option they’ve chosen for COVID testing, according to the R.I. Department of Education.
Achievement First Rhode Island
The charter system that serves roughly 1,700 students opted for school-administered COVID testing, and is listed as “considering” a state testing event upon returning to the classroom.
Barrington schools are planning to do school-based testing, and are considering a state testing event.
Beacon Charter School
The Woonsocket charter is listed as “considering” both testing options, but has not signed up for either yet.
The Pawtucket charter has signed up for school-based COVID testing, and is considering a state-run testing event.
Blackstone Valley Prep
The six-school charter system that serves students from Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln and Pawtucket has signed up to do school-based COVID testing and is considering a state testing event.
The East Bay regional school district has signed up for a state-administered testing event, which has not yet been scheduled. The district is listed as “considering” school-administered testing as well.
Burrillville schools declined to do ongoing school-based testing, but signed up for a state-run testing event that is scheduled for Feb. 9.
Following the pilot program in December, Central Falls will administer its own COVID tests moving forward, and declined to have another state-run event.
The smaller charter high school in Providence has signed up to do its own COVID testing, and is not having a state-run event.
The regional school district serving Charlestown, Richmond, and Hopkinton signed up for both options: school-based ongoing testing and a state testing event at a date to be determined.
Coventry will be doing school-based testing when students returned to the classroom, and is considering a state-administered event.
Rhode Island’s second-largest school district, which had to revert to remote learning in the fall due to COVID cases and quarantines, has opted to have a state-run testing event on Monday and Tuesday of next week as students return to school. The district, which serves more than 10,000 students, is considering doing ongoing school-based testing as well.
Cumberland declined to do school-based testing, but has signed up to hold a state testing event. A date has not been scheduled.
Davies Career & Technical High School
The state-operated high school is planning to do both school-based testing and have a state testing event on Feb. 2.
East Greenwich Public Schools has also selected both school-based testing and a state testing event, which has not yet been scheduled.
East Providence’s 5,000 students will have access to school-based testing. The district declined to host a state-run event.
The regional school district signed up for both ongoing school testing and a state event, with a date not yet scheduled.
Foster has signed up for both school-based testing and a state testing event for its 208 elementary schools. (Older students attend the regional school district, below.)
The regional secondary school district also signed up for both school-based and state testing.
Glocester’s elementary schools will have a state-run testing event, but did not sign up for ongoing school-based testing.
The charter school in Providence has so far signed up for a state-run testing event.
The Pawtucket charter school has signed up for both school-based COVID testing and a state-run event to be held on Jan. 12.
Jamestown schools declined to do school-based ongoing testing, but will have a state COVID testing event on Jan. 15.
Johnston declined school-administered testing, but signed up for a one-time testing state event that has not yet been scheduled.
Kingston Hill Academy
The small North Kingstown charter school declined to do COVID testing.
The Central Falls charter has not yet responded to the state about doing COVID testing, according to RIDE.
Following a pilot program at its middle school in December, Lincoln has thus far declined to continue doing COVID testing in schools.
Little Compton signed up for both school-administered testing and a state testing event on Feb. 22.
MET Career & Technical Center
The regional high school in Providence has not yet responded, according to RIDE.
Middletown schools will do a state-run testing event, and the district is considering administering its own tests as well.
Narragansett has signed up for both school-administered testing and state testing event, which has not yet been scheduled.
The town that makes up Block Island will do its own testing of its 148 students, and is not having a state-run event.
Newport declined to do its own testing, but signed up for a state testing event.
North Kingstown has signed up to do its own testing, and is considering scheduling a state testing event.
North Providence has signed up for a one-time state testing event, and is considering doing school-based testing as well.
North Smithfield plans to do its own COVID testing, and is considering a state testing event.
Northern RI Collaborative
The school in Lincoln declined to hold a state-run testing event, and is considering doing its own testing.
Paul Cuffee Charter School
The school in Providence is planning to do its own COVID testing, and is considering a state testing event.
One of the state’s larger school districts, Pawtucket is planning to do a state testing event on Jan. 21 and 22. The district is considering doing school-administered testing.
Portsmouth Public Schools has signed up for both school-administered testing and a state testing event, which has not yet been scheduled.
Providence plans to do its own COVID testing twice a month, and is not holding a state testing event.
R.I. School for the Deaf
The state-run school will do its own COVID testing, and isn’t having a one-day event.
Rhode Island Nurses Institute
The nurses institute’s charter high school signed up for both school-administered COVID tests and a state testing event.
RISE Prep Mayoral Academy
The charter school did not respond, according to RIDE.
Scituate has currently declined to do school COVID testing.
Segue Institute for Learning
The charter school in Central Falls signed up to do its own COVID testing, and is having a state testing event on Jan. 22.
Sheila Skip Nowell Leadership Academy
The school that serves pregnant, parenting and underserved youth signed up for a state testing event, and is considering doing ongoing testing.
Smithfield signed up for both school-administered testing and a state testing event, which has not yet been scheduled.
South Kingstown also signed up for both school-based testing and a state testing event, which has not yet been scheduled.
SouthSide Charter School
The charter school in Providence has signed up for a state testing event, and will also do ongoing school-administered testing.
The Compass School
The charter school in Kingston is doing a state testing event, but has declined to do its own ongoing COVID testing.
The Greene School
The charter school in West Greenwich is listed as “considering” COVID testing but has not yet committed.
The Hope Academy
The charter school in Providence has a state testing event on Feb. 1, but declined to sign up to do its own ongoing COVID testing.
The Providence charter school opted for both options, doing ongoing COVID testing and a school testing event on Jan. 25.
Tiverton has signed up for both school-administered testing and a state testing event, which has not yet been scheduled.
Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts
The charter school has not yet responded, according to RIDE.
Village Green Virtual
The virtual charter school is considering a state-run testing event for its students.
Warwick is holding a state-run COVID testing event on Jan. 13 and 15, and declined to do school-administered testing.
West Warwick is holding a state testing event on Feb. 8, and is considering doing ongoing testing.
Westerly has signed up for a state testing event, and is considering doing its own testing as well.
Woonsocket has signed up for a state testing event, and is considering doing its own testing.
Steph Machado (email@example.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook