Starting next month, all Juneau School District staff members will be required to get weekly COVID-19 tests. The school board voted unanimously to move forward with the mandate on Tuesday.
At the moment, school staff members have access to testing, but it’s optional. About 150-200 of them have been testing each week, voluntarily. District Superintendent Bridget Weiss said the new requirement will go into effect no later than Oct. 4.
“Staff [members] register [online],” Weiss said. “They can pick which day and which site they test at. So we will be expanding that to accommodate the required testing.”
Staff members who’ve been fully vaccinated or who’ve had COVID-19 in the last 90 days will be able to opt-out of testing. To make that possible, the district first has to verify everyone’s vaccination status. They’re hoping to use software that was put in place over the summer to collect that information.
Ideally, people would just log in and upload a photo of their vaccine card or doctor’s note. Weiss said there are steps in place for staff members who don’t comply with the testing requirement.
“We already have established progressive discipline for adults, kind of like we do for kids,” she said.
That can be everything from the supervisor talking with the person who missed the test all the way up to termination.
“That’s extreme,” Weiss said. “I don’t see that happening, but that’s kind of the end of the process.”
Like testing at any other place in town, staff members provide their health insurance information before getting the swab. While there’s no out-of-pocket cost to the employee, some union reps are concerned about insurance rates increasing in the future. But Weiss said if the district didn’t use the insurance system, it wouldn’t have the funding to support the program.
“And the cost for testing is minuscule in comparison to the cost to an insurance company when people contract COVID, get hospitalized from COVID, or those unknown, long-term effects of COVID,” Weiss said.
By adding another layer of mitigation and making testing convenient, the district hopes to keep schools and families healthier. So far, Weiss has received positive responses and very little pushback from staff.
“We’re so blessed in Juneau that people understand that we have a priority around keeping kids in school,” she said. “There are so many different things that we can do that contribute to that and this just happens to be one of them.”
The district is also working on a plan to increase testing among students. Weiss will present that plan during the school board meeting on Oct. 19.