Opting to test and learn

More and more Iola students exposed to COVID-19 are choosing to be tested for the virus at school rather than quarantine at home.



September 17, 2021 - 2:30 PM

With the goal to have children in school as much as possible during the pandemic, school officials are taking advantage of the program “Test to Stay and Learn,” which provides on-site testing for the coronavirus to those who have been exposed. 

Each school district’s program is unique, often with school board members working with their county health department to set parameters. The program is funded by a $75 million grant overseen by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

At USD 257 schools in Iola, tests are given three days a week to students who have been exposed to COVID. Those who test negative are allowed to remain in school and participate in extracurricular activities until their quarantine period of 10 days is over.

For students who choose not to be tested, they must quarantine at home. 

The response has been great, said Stacey Fager, superintendent of schools, with about 90% of parents opting for their children to remain in school. 

Stacey Fager, USD 257 Superintendent of School

This week, 45 students exposed to the virus have been able to remain in school by being tested every other day. The only stipulation is that they wear face masks at school during the quarantine.

Another 41 are quarantining at home.

This is where the numbers “get skewed,” Fager said. 

“Upon the advice of the KDHE and the county health department, students exposed to the virus in their homes cannot participate in the Test to Stay and Learn,” he said.

That’s because the current delta variant is more contagious so those who are exposed to it in an in-home setting are more likely to contract it, Fager said.

Students exposed at school, however, are less likely to contract the virus because of efforts to social distance.

“We’d much rather have students stay and learn than quarantine in their homes,” he said.

The tests take a matter of seconds, and are relatively painless because the longer nasal swabs are no longer used. The results are known in about 15 minutes.

HIGH-SCHOOLERS are more apt to opt for the testing, said Ashley Hooper, who oversees the testing program.

As far as wearing face masks, “they don’t mind as long as they can stay in school,” said Hooper. Hooper serves as director of school health for the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, which oversees the testing programs in Iola as well as in Altamont, Coffeyville and Galena, with Parsons completing the necessary paperwork.