A top priority for the Biden Administration since Day One has been to reopen schools safely and keep them open. The Administration has taken significant actions to get our students back in the classroom – and it is working, with more than 96% of school districts open for full-time in-person for all students this fall.
We know how to keep students safe in schools by taking the right steps to prevent or reduce transmission in schools—including getting staff and eligible students vaccinated, implementing universal indoor masking, maintaining physical distancing, improving ventilation, and performing regular screening testing of students and school staff. Schools should consistently implement science-based prevention strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) so that they can remain open for in-person learning and maintain the health and safety of all students, staff, and families.
As part of President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan announced in September, the Administration called on all schools to set up regular testing in schools for students, teachers, and staff consistent with CDC guidance. The Administration provided $10 billion in funding for COVID-19 screening testing for teachers, staff, and students in K-12 schools, in addition to the $130 billion provided to states and school districts that may also be used for testing. Screening testing is a critical strategy to identify positive cases of COVID-19 in students and staff and ensure K-12 schools can operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Administration has been assisting states and schools in implementing screening testing since awarding American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to states last spring, and today, is announcing additional actions to help states, schools, and school districts establish screening testing programs in more schools:
- ED and CDC to partner with The Rockefeller Foundation to accelerate school-based screening testing for students and staff: The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the CDC plan to partner with The Rockefeller Foundation to help ensure that all schools can access and set up screening testing programs as quickly as possible. This partnership will further expand the reach of federal and state partners in helping more school and district leaders navigate the set-up and ongoing operations of school testing programs. The Rockefeller Foundation has been providing resources to schools on setting up testing programs since the early days of the pandemic – including by piloting screening testing programs to gather insights on how best to structure testing in K-12 schools; establishing a K-12 National Testing Action Program to connect school leaders and parents together with labs and manufacturers; and issuing a school playbook to offer step-by-step guidance to design and implement effective testing programs in schools (resources can be found on The Rockefeller Foundation’s website). ED, CDC, and The Rockefeller Foundation will collaborate on initiatives to make it easier for schools to set up testing, including by:
Holding weekly “office hours” to connect schools to national testing experts to set up and sustain screening testing programs: Starting November 2, ED, CDC, and The Rockefeller Foundation will host a learning network with twice weekly sessions through December aimed at helping schools set up screening testing programs. The series will feature experts from CDC, ED, and outside of the U.S. Government to help schools develop and execute a plan for screening testing with trusted partners. Building on existing engagement from CDC and ED in providing technical assistance to schools, this new series is designed to help schools no matter where they are in setting up testing programs – from those who are just starting, to those who are looking to sustain or expand participation in their existing programs. The series will launch on November 2, and more details can be found at The Rockefeller Foundation website.
Publishing a start-up guide for schools on how to launch screening testing programs: Today, The Rockefeller Foundation released a new one-page start-up guide that schools can use to begin testing. This guide seeks to simplify the process by identifying key steps for schools to take in launching testing – and identifies resources available to help schools navigate the process. This includes connecting to a testing provider; learning about different testing options available; developing a plan and the team to administer testing; communicating with parents on consent and what the testing process will look like for their child; and planning for how to isolate individuals who test positive during school hours. The guide can be found at The Rockefeller Foundation website.
- Additional personnel available to help state health departments coordinate school-based screening testing through the CDC Foundation: In addition to the resources already provided to states and school districts from the ARP, the CDC Foundation is making staff available to state health departments through the COVID Workforce Initiative to coordinate, execute, and expand on school-based COVID-19 testing, contact tracing/case investigation, and other public health activities. These staff can help in taking on roles like leading school-based testing expansion, hiring liaisons to support local school districts, and deploying disease investigation specialists, case investigators, and nurses to support outbreak and case investigations. This additional support from the CDC Foundation can be obtained by contacting CDC at this link.
- Directory for schools to identify a provider and get started with testing: Today, the CDC launched a new directory and website to make it easy for schools to identify testing providers within their state. CDC has distributed $10 billion in ARP funding to help states launch screening testing programs in their schools. Most states have used that funding to set up centrally-supported state contracts with testing providers, making it easier for schools to tap into testing programs and established supports underway across their state. The directory will point schools to the contracted provider(s) their state is working with, the state’s landing page for how to get started with provider(s) and a point of contact with clear contact information for schools and districts to reach out to if they have any questions.
- Guidance for school districts on providing incentives to parents and guardians to participate in screening testing programs: ED is releasing a fact sheet on how funding from ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds can be used to provide incentives to parents or guardians whose children participate in school-based COVID-19 screening testing. Strong school-based screening testing programs rely on robust participation from the school community to ensure that they can identify and remove infected individuals from the school before any COVID-19 infection can spread. The resource can be found on the ED website.