A bill to require all K-12 schools in the state to come up with COVID-19 testing plans for all students and staff began discussion in the Senate on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 1479, authored by Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), would be fully funded by the state and would require the Department of Public Health (CDPH) to use those funds to test for COVID-19 in teachers, staff, and students in K-12 schools not already funded for testing by the federal government. Testing and other mitigation efforts would also be used in periphery education areas such as preschool, onsite after school programs, and daycare.
Under SB 1479, school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools would be required to create a COVID-19 testing plan and report testing program info to the CDPH. Every school in a district will have to name one staff member as the lead on the COVID-19 testing program.
While the bill doesn’t list an estimated cost of the program, it does make clear that local agencies and school districts would be reimbursed for all testing and program costs.
Senator Pan, a pediatrician, said that he wrote the bill to help mitigate any future outbreaks in schools by having rapid and mass testing to happen and to keep operating safely for in-person learning. With statewide school mask mandates being reassessed next month and likely getting an end date, Pan sad that SB 1479 is needed sooner than later.
“It’s really important that schools know what’s going on in their school sites when it comes to COVID,” said Pan on Tuesday. “COVID testing allows schools to identify positive cases and then quarantine those who are sick, helping to reduce the spread of the virus.
“COVID testing plans are essential to parents and schools and child care sites being confident in staying open and keeping children safe from COVID. Funded school testing plans provide vital information to protect students and teachers through COVID variants and surges.”
Support for, arguments against SB 1479
Multiple healthcare, student, and school groups gave given their support to the bill since it was first introduced in the Senate last week, noting not only the reduction of health risks, but that such a plan would nearly eliminate the chance that virtual classes would return if another surge returned.
“Having school testing plans and resources is a key tool to maintaining in-person instruction safely and will curb the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” said San Juan Unified School District Board Member Paula Villescaz on Tuesday. “In the San Juan Unified School District, site-based testing for students and staff has been an important part of a mitigation strategy that has helped us keep our community safe. I am thankful to Dr. Pan and the Legislative Vaccine Work Group for marshalling the resources to support open and safe schools for our kids and staff during this pandemic.”
Berkeley Unified School District Director Ana Vasudeo added in a statement that “As a school board director, I applaud Dr. Pan’s effort to ensure a statewide COVID-19 school testing standard. During this pandemic, testing for COVID-19 in my district was essential to keeping our schools open. After two years, we have learned how to implement public health measures to keep students and education workers safe. The pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis in education and the path to academic & socio-emotional recovery for our students is tied to our continued COVID-19 mitigation efforts, which include making a plan to test for COVID-19 and providing schools with resources necessary for staying open. We saw this first-hand with the 6 million at-home tests that were distributed to schools during the recent Omicron surge. We have the tools to protect students, but if we don’t use them, we needlessly put the health and safety of California’s students at risk.”
However, the bill is also opposed by many other students groups and parent groups worried about what all the extra testing will do, especially with school vaccination mandates having been announced and being put into place. The unknown costs have also been a point of contention.
“We need to know everything up front in order to make a good decision,” Monica Croix, a parental leader at a school in LA County, told the Globe on Wednesday. “A lot of people don’t like this bill not just because what more testing will do to the kids on a mental level, but on the cost. Let’s see Pan give a real estimated figure first and maybe a CDPH study on what the mental effects of testing are on kids. Because testing on adults isn’t always great. Pan is supposed to be a doctor. Let’s find the facts first.”
SB 1479 is expected to be assigned to Senate Committees soon.
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