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As its COVID cases climb, Syracuse High School to try rapid testing in hopes of avoiding closure

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo)A football game at Syracuse High School in Syracuse, as seen in 2013.

Parents were told Friday that Syracuse High School in Davis County has once again exceeded its official benchmark of more than 15 COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks.

But instead of triggering the school’s closure and shifting to online learning as per usual procedure, Davis School District officials said they would pilot a new rapid testing strategy in hopes of keeping the public school open.

In concert with Davis County Health Department, the “Test to Stay” program will require at least 80% of the school’s 2,286 students to voluntarily submit to a free rapid COVID-19 test starting Monday. Consent forms went out Friday, with school administrators urging families to participate.

Without at least 80% participation among the student body, Syracuse High will close through Dec. 18 — the Friday before winter break — and students will learn remotely, officials said in urging families to sign up.

“We love our students and feel this gives us the best opportunity to safely keep our school open,” school officials wrote in the letter sent late Friday to parents.

Syracuse High School is among at least 54 Utah high schools and 90 schools overall that have recently crossed the 15-case coronavirus threshold that state officials say should trigger two weeks of online instruction. It was one of four across the state forced to temporarily migrate to virtual learning starting Nov. 6 in reaction to rising cases.

Several parents reacted negatively Friday and Saturday via social media to the school’s announcement, with some questioning the accuracy of the rapid tests.

“I do not like the options in this plan at all,” parent Brook Watterson Sarvello wrote on one of the school’s Facebook pages. “I feel our choices are either your child doesn’t get a decent education or you sign up for a risky plan that we don’t know will work.”

School officials, meanwhile, were urging parents to consent before Monday, via their students’ myDSD accounts online.

Under the trial run of “Test to Stay,” students with parental permission would be pulled out of class and tested Monday, with results in 15 to 20 minutes. Those testing negative would be allowed to continue attending school, officials said, while those with positive tests would be sent home “with additional information.”

The Davis School District had previously set up rapid testing sites at its high schools for those participating in district-sponsored athletics and extracurricular activities. It is using Abbott BinaxNow rapid antigen tests, administered by school nurses, the district said on its consent form.

“We know this may be a difficult situation for you,” the note accompanying the form said. “We ask for your help and participation in this program so we may continue to operate as normal.”

Attempts to reach school administrators for additional comment Saturday were unsuccessful.

Students whose parents do not consent will be quarantined from Dec. 8 through 18 and will have access to course content through the Canvas online learning platform, the letter said, but not full class sessions.

In a tweet early Saturday, the school said students who don’t have classes scheduled Monday “can come to school anytime before noon to get tested.”

Records related to COVID-19 diagnostic testing are being retained by the district only as long as they are needed for administrative purposes, the form said, and will then be destroyed.

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