Wednesday is test day at Lake Champlain Waldorf School, but it’s not the kind of test you might expect.
Throughout the day, students at the private school leave their classrooms to get their noses swabbed with a PCR test for COVID-19. It’s a requirement for staff and students ages five and older, regardless of vaccination status.
“Most of our students can’t yet be vaccinated and with the rising infection rate, the rising rate of positivity, the number of school-based cases we just can’t be too careful,” said Head of School Jas Darland.
The school is enrolled in a free federal program called Operation Expanded Testing, and the Waldorf campus in Shelburne is the first school in Vermont to use it.
“Our expectation is that if you’re here, in school, you’ve been testing every week,” said Darland.
According to the Vermont Agency of Education, COVID-19 surveillance testing is optional for schools. Districts or schools can choose to take part in Vermont’s School Testing Surveillance Program through the state’s testing vendor, CIC Health.
Last year, Lake Champlain Waldorf School shut down for only two days due to a suspected COVID-19 case, which turned out to be negative. Darland says she hopes to continue in-person learning as long as possible while also protecting students not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Second-grader Valkyra Darland says she looks forward to the day when life will look and feel more normal.
“We have to be in groups, we have to have our masks up, we have to be separated a lot, we have to do this, we have to do that,” Darland said.
Devin Beringer, a parent who helps administer the tests, says he wouldn’t feel comfortable sending his daughter to school without the testing program.
“It would really scary to be in a school environment where there wasn’t some kind of testing protocol. So the fact that we’re doing this on a weekly basis with pretty much every student and staff member is really nice,” Beringer said.
Educators from Champlain Valley Union High School and Burlington School District said they hope to start a similar testing routine soon.
“We are planning to participate in the State’s surveillance testing programs and hope to roll those out in October, though most of those will be optional,” said BSD’s Communication Specialist Russell Elek.
At CVU, testing is only required if someone has been identified as a close contact or is unvaccinated.
As an added layer of protection, some classes at LCWS are conducted outside. Masks are also required in and outside the building.