LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools is working on a “test-to-stay” program in hopes of reducing the number of students forced to quarantine after exposure to those with COVID-19 in schools.

Lawmakers allowed school districts to implement such programs, in which asymptomatic students are regularly tested for COVID-19 after potential exposures in schools rather than immediately sending them home in quarantine, as part of a new law meant to help school districts navigate the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2021-22 year.

Superintendent Marty Pollio told members of the Jefferson County Board of Education last week that the district would bring a test-to-stay program for their consideration at a future board meeting, though he also stressed the importance of vaccinations in curbing quarantines.

“The more we vaccinate, the less have to quarantine if they are asymptomatic,” Pollio said during a Sept. 14 board meeting.

Eva Stone, district health services manager for JCPS, said a test-to-stay program is “absolutely” feasible at Kentucky’s largest school district, where some 10,000 students and 4,400 employees are already tested weekly for COVID-19 and several drive-thru testing locations offer additional coverage.

“It’s certainly something that Dr. Pollio has expressed an interest in, the board has expressed an interest in, and we'll continue to work on protocols and work with our local health department to develop them,” she said Tuesday.

Fayette County Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district, announced a pilot test-to-stay program earlier this month, according to a Lexington Herald-Leader report.

“We have some unique situations that maybe every school district in Kentucky doesn’t have,” Stone said. “… The good part is we’ve had a strong partnership with the health department, we've had the Rockefeller (Foundation) grant which has allowed us to have testing, drive-thru testing sites that opened up last year, and so we can look to those models, see what did we learn from those and then how can we expand on those things to make testing sites available for our students, staff and their families.”

The Kentucky Department of Education released guidance related to Senate Bill 1, the new law passed during a special session of the General Assembly, on Monday and referred to current K-12 school testing protocols from the Kentucky Department for Public Health for school districts interested in implementing test-to-stay programs.

About 39,000 COVID-19 screening tests have been administered at JCPS schools so far this school year and 293 of those have yielded positive cases, Stone said. That helps the district detect COVID-19 cases, particularly among those without symptoms, and prevent spread inside schools, she said.

“Every student I’ve talked to talked about their concern, their desire to keep their family safe, and that’s the advantage of this,” Stone said of the district’s COVID-19 testing program.

The Jefferson County Board of Education’s next business meeting is scheduled on Oct. 5.

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