The Metamorphosis of “Test to Stay”

Lately, Education Secretary Dan French has been playing a game of three-card monte with the “Test to Stay” program for the public schools. Each week, he’s cited a different set of statistics. This makes it almost impossible to track the real progress of the program, which has very slowly rolled out through the fall semester as school officials and staff struggled to find the necessary time and resources. And the state did little or nothing to help.

Do you recall when French said the state had contracted with a temp agency to provide additional staff for districts to conduct TTS? We got the initial announcement, and then we never heard boo about it again. Did anyone actually get a temp staffer? We don’t know, but if it had been successful and allowed more districts to do TTS, you can bet we would have heard about it.

This week, French announced the latest change in his agency’s ever-shifting, always-belated Covid policy. He’s still using the name “Test to Stay,” but it’s becoming a very different program starting immediately.

No longer will overburdened school staff be tasked with Covid testing first thing every day. Instead, as French said on Tuesday, “schools will become a distribution point of antigen test for students and their families, not administrators of a testing program.”

I guess that’s a relief, sort of? Schools won’t have to administer the tests, but they’ve got a new job: Distributing test kits to parents. It’s a less daunting assignment, but it’s still extra work. Plus, we’ll be counting on parents to administer the tests and self-report positive results. Seems a little iffy to me.

Most parents are well-intentioned, but what of those who are skeptical about Covid and masks and vaccines? Are they going to test and report? Also, any parent with child care concerns will have an incentive to not report positives or even conduct the tests. If their child tests positive, they have to deal with a child care crisis on the spot.

One could argue that this program shift is of a piece with the administration’s broader goal of relying on Vermonters to self-test instead of operating test sites under controlled conditions. But it’s also a tacit acknowledgment that TTS was hamstrung by a lack of resources in school districts — and a lack of assistance from an agency that’s been long on advice and short on actual help.

We don’t know, and will probably never know, to what degree this policy shift was triggered by low school participation in TTS. But the implication seems clear.

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