'Massive operation': East Bay school district organizes mass COVID-19 testing in bid to reopen

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The Alameda Unified School District is setting up mass COVID-19 testing to get their TK through 5th grade students back in the classroom on March 8, if case rates continue to decline and fall to 25 cases per 100,000 residents or below.

According to the school district, as of Feb. 1, the case rate for Alameda County is 28.9 cases per 100,000 residents.

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"The notion that we will go on having young children and children with special needs, staring at tablets, and computers for hours and hours a day. We are all kidding ourselves if we think that is a productive way to educate children," said AUSD Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi, who says the district will begin testing staff on Wednesday.

Under Governor Newsom's "Safe Schools for All" plan, once school opens, the district will have to test all 5,600 elementary students and staff weekly or biweekly, depending on regional case rates.

Weekly testing is required for all staff and students if the case rate is greater than 14 cases per 100,000 residents. Biweekly testing is required for all staff and students if the case rate is less than 14 cases per 100,000 residents.

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Groups of parents and students across California participated in rallies Friday afternoon to demand the governor allow high school sports to resume.

"It's a massive operation," said Scuderi. "It cannot be understated how large of a lift this is for public education, local school districts, who really are doing this type of thing for the first time."

The district has even signed contracts with multiple labs to provide PCR testing via nasal swabs. Scuderi says they plan to do the testing on empty middle and high school campuses.

"Pulling significant resources in the direction of testing, at a time where we need to be focusing on how we are going to manage our students when they return to campus," Scuderi said.

School Districts and teachers unions are often at odds, but right now, AUSD and the Alameda teachers union agree on the burden of handing over COVID-19 testing to the school district.

"It's really absurd," said Judith Klinger, president Alameda Education Association. "Why on earth has this level of public health been put into the hands of school districts?"

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"That's not our specialty. We know how to help kids learn," said Klinger, who is also a high school teacher.

Klinger says the union is close to reaching an agreement with the district to head back to the classroom. "Teachers are dying to come back to the classroom. We miss our kids"

Second grade parent, Nicole Loeffler-Siu, says she's proud of the Alameda School District. "They've worked really hard to try to make this happen."

She hopes Alameda is able to reopen and help push other California districts to start testing and do the same. The most important thing is education. I think it can be done safely."

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