A couple of weeks ago, we let you know about eight school systems that are taking part in a TEA pilot program for rapid COVID-19 testing. Participating are Fabens, Granger, Harlingen, Lampasas, Longview, and Ysleta school districts, and the Bob Hope School in Port Arthur and Grace Community School in Tyler.

TEA is now expanding the effort, allowing other districts to opt into the program. Staff and students (with parental consent) are able to get free tests with results in about 15 minutes. Participating school systems will also receive PPE each month, such as test kits, N95 masks, face shields, surgical masks, gloves and gowns.

Adults will be able to self-administer the Abbott Labs BinaxNOW Test with the oversight of a test administrator. BinaxNOW tests are significantly more accurate than the previous generation of rapid antigen tests with a sensitivity (true positive rate) of 97.1% and a specificity (true negative rate) of 98.5%.

Each school district must identify a district test coordinator. Additionally, test administrators will be determined at the local level; however, test administrators must complete required training resulting in certification to administer the tests. TEA has identified training modules available for test administrators.

TEA’s recommended testing approach is to conduct recurrent testing of asymptomatic individuals for screening, and it is suggested that this be limited to staff only. Additionally, TEA recommends targeted response testing of symptomatic individuals.

School systems are only eligible to receive this testing support if they are providing on campus instruction to all students who wish to attend on campus, currently or within the next two weeks. However, according to TEA’s Opt-In Application, in the event this condition cannot be met, specific authorization from TEA is required. Districts can still submit their form now and not make that particular attestation, but further conversation with TEA will be required.

Permission slips for students under 18 years old are required, and schools cannot mandate the use of the tests on their staff or students. You must be a student or staff member employed by the school system to be eligible to receive testing.

To participate, school systems have two reporting responsibilities and campuses have two notification requirements:

  • Report cases via the pre-existing DSHS COVID-19 Case Reporting Form, which includes test counts and testing results.
  • Each school must meet specific testing reporting requirements using a web-based portal and inventory management requirements associated with these tests. This includes maintaining a weekly inventory tracker. Campuses should be prepared to notify individuals, or, in the case of a student under 18, the student’s parents, in the event of a positive test, though they will receive a formal notification within 24 hours via email and/or text.
  • Even if districts don't have any positive cases in a given week, districts must submit the volume of tests administered and the results within the district. This information will be aggregated at the state and district level and publicly posted on the Department of State Health Services Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard.
  • In addition, school systems must provide notification to their campus communities of positive cases on campus, consistent with TEA Public Health Guidance notification requirements.

These tests are being provided free of charge from the federal government, and school systems cannot charge for administering the tests. The testing program duration will be dependent on the number of BinaxNow test kits that are ultimately provided by federal officials partners and the level of participation from school systems.