Classes have been in session for seven school days in Montgomery, the state’s largest school system with more than 160,000 students.
School board President Brenda Wolff said Wednesday night that she hoped the testing would be in place by Monday. The school system has requested 40,000 tests from the state.
“Once we get these tests, this will alleviate a lot of this,” Wolff said. She said she shared the frustration of parents.
“It’s outrageous to send all of these kids home for a symptom that could be the common cold or allergies,” she said.
School system spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said the big shift is that the county is giving the go-ahead for its employees who work in schools to administer the testing. While rapid tests have previously been available, staff had not, she said.
Many parents argue the school system’s practices about who to quarantine also need to change — and are a major reason for what they see as excessive quarantines. Onijala said the school system has followed county health department guidance.
The county school board is expected to discuss the issue at its Thursday meeting.
Earlier Wednesday, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) addressed concerns about the district’s quarantine policy, saying the decision was made out of an abundance of caution as students returned to school while the delta variant surges.
But Elrich was quick to note the pitfalls.
“I want to clarify up front, there may need to be some changes to the decision on how and when to quarantine,” Elrich said.
County Health Officer Travis Gayles said last week that about 790 students were put in the “quarantine pending results category.” Those individuals were identified as close contacts to someone who showed a coronavirus symptom and was awaiting test results. Of those, 199 were confirmed as close contacts to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus and were asked to continue quarantining, Gayles said.
He said about 125 students were sent home after showing coronavirus symptoms.
“Do the math; that’s an extremely small percentage,” Gayles said. “We do not dismiss the value of in-person education. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not dismissing that . . . but that number is less than 1 percent.”
Gayles stood by the policy, noting that if an alternative cause can be immediately linked to the symptom — such as a student with a history of motion sickness feeling nauseous after a bus ride — students will not be asked to quarantine.
“We agree that not every symptom is covid, and we’re doing our due diligence to separate those symptoms that are most concerning versus those that can be explained by something else,” Gayles said.