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Greenfield school super to request help from National Guard for pooled testing

  • DeBARGE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2021 4:41:18 PM

GREENFIELD — Superintendent Christine DeBarge intends to request support from the Massachusetts National Guard to assist the nursing department with the COVID-19 pooled testing program in place across the district.

Pooled testing, a state-funded program that first launched in February, provides COVID-19 testing resources at no cost to participating districts throughout Massachusetts. The program involves testing groups of students as part of one “test pool” or test batch. If a particular test pool comes back with a positive result, each individual in that pool is tested to identify the positive case.

Following weeks-long delays caused by staffing issues on the state level, Greenfield launched the pooled testing program earlier this month after identifying in-house staffing that could fill the gaps left by the state.

“I’m not sure it’s widely known the work that is happening by our nursing staff, and the hours they are working to try and support the staff and students, and to do the pooled testing we need to have to improve the health in our schools,” DeBarge said at a School Committee meeting Wednesday night. “It’s really taxing the staff we have. We’re still looking for substitutes in the district to assist with the health needs.”

DeBarge explained that because of staffing issues and the other daily work expected of nurses, Head Nurse Kelly Savitri has had to temporarily modify the schedule for pooled testing from weekly to every other week, with elementary schools getting tested one week and secondary schools the other.

“She is making sure to get our athletes tested,” DeBarge noted. “She’s prioritized making sure they are getting done.”

Other methods of testing available in the district include rapid testing, which is used as needed for students who demonstrate symptoms; and a “test and stay” protocol, which is used for students who are identified as close contacts with a positive COVID-19 case but who do not show symptoms.

DeBarge explained that in communications with CIC Health, the Cambridge-based company contracted by the state that’s overseeing the testing program, she learned the school district had been assigned a vendor with “a less successful track record than other vendors.”

“They’ve reassigned us,” she said. “That second vendor is in the process of onboarding additional staff.”

The only other option, she said, would be to request assistance from the Massachusetts National Guard.

Earlier this week, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that up to 200 members of the Massachusetts National Guard were being activated to assist K-12 schools with COVID-19 testing of students and staff. Other National Guard members were called in to offset staffing shortages at the Department of Correction (DOC).

“Today’s activations will ensure that we have additional staffing support for our school testing programs to help kids stay safe and will allow DOC to respond to possible staffing shortages,” Baker said in a statement.

DeBarge, however, has since learned through meetings with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) that schools that began pooled testing wouldn’t be prioritized.

“I will reach out to make the request for National Guard assistance, but I’m not sure where we will fall on that list,” she said.

School Committee member Glenn Johnson-Mussad said he sympathizes with parents who have concerns about sending their students to school for in-person learning when the resources for pooled testing aren’t completely in place.

“I totally sympathize with the feeling that their children are being made to come to school in person and the pooled testing isn’t there,” he said. “It’s not our fault — the (governor’s) mandate was there before the resources were.”

Other School Committee members expressed frustration with the state for failing to recognize the effort the district made early on in the process.

“We tried to do the best thing we could,” DeBarge responded, “and unfortunately shortchanged ourselves at the end.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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