During a special meeting on Jan. 15, the District 200 school board voted 5-2 in favor of approving a contract with Safeguard to provide saliva screening to students and staffers once the district determines that it’s safe for them to return to in-person learning.
Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said the district plans to conduct approximately 2,200 screenings a week for up to 17 weeks, at an approximate cost not to exceed $411,400. The superintendent said the number of screenings could increase if the Illinois High School Association allows sports and other extracurricular activities to resume.
The district selected Safeguard over Shield Saliva, another saliva-screening contractor that D200 officials were considering. Shield Saliva costs $20 per test ($9 more than the $11 per test cost of Safeguard) and, as of December, was still waiting for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Safeguard, unlike Shield Saliva, is a non-diagnostic test, which means that anyone who tests positive on the saliva screening test is “presumably positive” and must take an official COVID-19 test.
Pruitt-Adams said the testing kit includes a straw to collect the saliva sample, a vial to hold the sample and an envelope to deposit the sample into a drop box.
“We anticipate putting seven drop boxes throughout our community so that our students and families have easy access,” the superintendent said. “We’re looking at putting drop boxes in the far southeast and southwest of our community, the far northeast and northwest, two in River Forest, as well as the [West Cook] YMCA and our own location here.”
The saliva screenings will be mandatory for any student who decides to return to campus for hybrid learning and optional for staffers who will be on-site. Pruitt-Adams said administrators were ready to start a pilot saliva-screening system once the board approved the contract, with 5-10 administrators identified to participate in the pilot.
The district has still not identified a date for when students will return to campus for hybrid learning, but Pruitt-Adams said whenever administrators set that date, families and staffers will be notified a week in advance, and students who choose hybrid learning will be required to undergo the saliva-screening tests, which can be performed at home, no more than 48 hours prior to returning to campus.
Pruitt-Adams said that, in addition to local and county-wide COVID-19 data, the saliva screening provides another data metric that will help administrators mitigate the spread of the virus.
As with District 97 officials, D200 officials are taking into consideration updated guidance from public health experts that recommends school officials lean more on internal COVID-19 case data, such as that which can be provided by saliva screening, than on data that tracks positive-case data by suburbs and counties and that’s acquired by local health departments.
Pruitt-Adams said administrators will be responsible for providing, collecting and transporting the screening materials to a lab in Brookfield. The district will also be responsible for generating a barcode for each test, but that “no identifying information for staff or students is shared with the vendor.”
She said Safeguard will provide test results and metrics to administrators within 4-8 hours of receiving the samples. Safeguard’s confirmed accurate is 99 percent, she said. Other districts with Safeguard contracts include New Trier, LaGrange and Glen Ellyn, among others, she said.
Board members Jackie Moore and Gina Harris were the only members to vote against the contract with Safeguard.
During the special meeting, Moore expressed concerns about how effective the saliva screening will be, if it’s optional for staff.
Pruitt-Adams said her administration made the decision on optional screening for staff after talking to surrounding districts and consulting with D200’s legal counsel.
Greg Johnson, D200 assistant superintendent, told board members that Safeguard establishes a 75 percent participation threshold for ensuring that the screening is effective. He said that, considering the volume of students in the building and the many adults who will take the screenings voluntarily, administrators are confident they’ll achieve that participation rate.
Harris said she didn’t think the screening was as effective a mitigation as simply avoiding in-person learning altogether until the virus is under control, adding that the district should focus more effort on ensuring that the students and families who prefer to continue remote learning, many of whom may be Black and Brown, are getting an equitable level of resources and support.
“I understand the need to have this information, but for me the only true way to ensure we’re not exacerbating a pandemic is to keep people apart until we know that we can make sure that more people aren’t going to get sick,” Harris said. “The testing thing is a good thing. I get it. I hope these measures accomplish what people want them to accomplish, but the truth is, the only thing that definitely will is keeping people apart.”