As you can probably imagine, there has been quite a continued conversation regarding our announcement of a COVID-19 testing regimen at North Cross for the upcoming year. There have been many good questions, some operational, others more scientific. It is important to remember that this is not something that has been done before and thus there are numerous decisions that remain to be finalized. We continue to build our contacts in the medical community so that we are not only able to obtain the best testing data, but also use it in the most effective manner. Our goal is not only to open school on time, but also to have school operate as normally as possible, and to the extent we are able, eliminate the possibility of distance learning.
I regret that one of our local TV stations spliced stock footage of COVID testing into the piece they did on the North Cross testing decision. This stock footage showed the much more intrusive process of nasopharyngeal swabs, which is not what we will be doing. Currently, our plans are to do drive through testing, by grade, and we will have a number of nurses and doctors present to guide students through a self-administered nasal swab. Protocol now indicates that the best time to do this will be one week before the beginning of school.
I have been getting a number of questions about the cost of testing. I will be very upfront that this testing provides a significant degree of certainty that we will be able to keep school open when others may be forced to move to distance learning, and that makes testing very valuable. That being said, we have a group of local physicians and medical administrators that are examining different pricing options, the ability to use insurance for payment, and methods to decrease the number of tests required. In addition, North Cross continues to examine the degree to which we can assist families with financial need. There will be a financial burden, but we will work to make it as minimal as possible.
Perhaps associated with the issue of cost, there have been a number of questions regarding the efficacy of monthly testing. It is important to realize that while monthly testing will identify COVID-19 positive students, the primary reason for this testing is to determine the relative level of spread in our community. Once a baseline positivity rate is identified, follow up testing can then be used to determine whether our mitigation efforts on campus are successfully preventing the spread of disease. Thus, we can increase or decrease social distancing restrictions as indicated and increase the likelihood that we can remain open while other schools are forced to move to more restrictive environments. It is not a cure-all, but testing goes a long way toward preventing an outbreak.
We have also had a number of questions as to whether we will be forced to miss more school because we test than we would if we didn’t test. The thought is that asymptomatic students would now be identified and sections of the school will be closed as a result. When a student is identified as positive, we will immediately test all students that are considered to have been in close contact. While we await test results, these students will be asked to remain at home. When cleared, within 48 hours, they will be allowed to return to school.
And finally, I have heard from many parents that they are not sure they want their child to return to school, either out of general concern or because there is an at-risk adult or sibling in the family. They ask if there is a distance learning option for students. There will be a distance learning option, which will be necessary for those students who are required to spend time at home because of positive results. We are in the process of increasing the presence of cameras in the classroom so that students at home will be able to follow along with their classmates until they are able to return.
As I wrote earlier, there are a number of issues that we continue to work out. We will work as expeditiously as possible and are glad for the late start this coming year.
Christian J. Proctor, PhD
Dr. Proctor is the ninth Head of School at North Cross and has served as such since 2011. He has more than 30 years of experience in education. He has served as headmaster at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, Louisiana, Grace Episcopal School in Monroe, Louisiana, and as Interim Headmaster at Wesley Academy in Houston, Texas. In each location, Dr. Proctor’s tenure was marked by creativity, innovation, and school growth.