E.P. Superintendent urges educational staff inclusion in early vaccine rollout

District will begin administering rapid testing program to determine potential asymptomatic carriers

By Mike Rego
Posted 1/13/21

EAST PROVIDENCE — Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Crowley is urging state officials include all educational personnel in Rhode Island’s initial distribution of the COVID-19 …

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E.P. Superintendent urges educational staff inclusion in early vaccine rollout

District will begin administering rapid testing program to determine potential asymptomatic carriers

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Crowley is urging state officials include all educational personnel in Rhode Island’s initial distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The superintendent penned a letter on the subject (see attachment), which she has submitted to the governor’s office. Her correspondence was presented to the School Committee at the body’s January 12 meeting and received unanimous support from the five-member body.

“If teachers are to be encouraged, or forced, to return to their classrooms as ‘critical workers’ they need to be provided COVID vaccines as protections for themselves based on the hazards, notwithstanding adherence to COVID protocols, of being in classrooms with numerous children,” Superintendent Crowley wrote.

The superintendent explained last Tuesday night, teachers are currently included in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout. However, at the moment, those injections are scheduled to take place some time in late March and could, if distribution continues at the pace it is now, drift into April and potentially even May.

“I think all educational staff needs to be part of Phase 1, I really do feel there is a need for that,” Superintendent Crowley said in her remarks to the committee. She also noted she has the support of the East Providence Education Association, the union of district teachers, and the National Education Association.

Potential distribution site

In addition, the superintendent said if asked the district could serve as the main distribution point of the vaccine to students and staff in the city. She remembered taking her children to her local school building in the past to receive required vaccines and said East Providence could accommodate such an undertaking.

“We have the capacity to do that in the district. We have the facilities and the personnel,” Superintendent Crowley continued. “We would be able to meet the demand for the district if that happens.”

The superintendent’s letter concluded with the following: “Teachers should be included along with hospital workers and first responders in Phase One of the vaccine distribution. Teachers’ contributions to our COVID pandemic responses, including supporting children and providing critical child care services, need to be recognized and appreciated, especially when these contributions increase the risk of COVID exposure. Providing teachers with protection against COVID is one means of doing so.”

Rapid testing
Superintendent Crowley, as well, updated the committee on the district’s plan to participate in a testing regime to decipher potential asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers designed by the Rhode Island Department of Health.

The program uses the BinaxNOW rapid test, which the superintendent said can return results in 15 minutes. Children 12-and-older can self-administer the test under observation of a trained professional. Those younger than 12 will have the test conducted by a member of staff.

Superintendent Crowley said the district is awaiting instruction from the Rhode Island Department of Education. Six employees will take training on the procedures of conducting the tests and will return to the district to likewise instruct peers.

According to the RIDOH website, “The BinaxNOW COVID-19 test is a lateral flow test that detects the presence of protein antigens from SARS-CoV-2 in individuals suspected of COVID-19 by their healthcare provider within the first seven days of symptom onset.”

The test is done by inserting a swab in the nose. It is then placed on a treated card to determine the result. If a student returns a positive test, the superintendent said a parent or guardian will be immediately notified. If the result is negative it will be noted in the testing database.

Superintendent Crowley emphasized the tests are “completely voluntary” and students must have a signed permission slip to take part. She also highlighted the test is only for students and staff that are asymptomatic, adding “if students or teachers have symptoms, they shouldn’t be in school.”

She continued, the testing is intended for those feeling ill to determine if they are contagious with the virus. Also, each of the schools in district will open in the evening one night per week so parents can escort their child through the test.

Of note as well, high school athletes are likely soon to begin being tested at least once a week. Superintendent Crowley said the Rhode Island Interscholastic League is “very, very concerned about potential spread.”

As an example, she said the Bishop Hendricken hockey team, which began preparation for its season two weeks ago, is already in quarantine following a positive test by a player during tryouts. District athletic trainer Amanda Moran is one of the employees who will attend the BinaxNOW training.

“It’s a very, very simple process and we’re happy to do it,” Superintendent Crowley said of the testing program in general.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.