Shawnee Mission pauses ‘Test to Stay’ program, puts in place new mask rule thresholds

Shawnee Mission is pausing its test to stay program to prioritize testing for symptomatic students and staff, district officials told the board of education on Monday. Additionally, the board made several updates to its COVID-19 mitigation plan — including another circumstance in which masks will return to secondary schools. Above, Shawnee Mission South students in masks. File photo.

After less than a week, Shawnee Mission is pausing its “Test to Stay” program amid an ongoing strain on testing resources throughout Johnson County.

On Monday, Christy Ziegler, Shawnee Mission’s chief of student services, told the school board that the district has temporarily halted use of the program.

“Test to Stay” is a CDC-endorsed protocol adopted by SMSD and other local districts late last year that allows students and staff to remain in school as long as they continue to get daily negative test results for seven straight school days.

The aim is to keep students learning in person at school. But the district’s decision to pause “Test to Stay” comes as testing resources are being stretched thin in SMSD and across Johnson County, with long lines of cars at drive-thru testing sites and empty shelves at local pharmacies where at-home tests have sold out.

Shawnee Mission officials previously told the Post that the district knew resources for the program would be limited.

Ziegler said halting the program for now will allow SMSD to focus on testing symptomatic individuals and is in alignment with Johnson County Department of Health and Environment guidance.

Testing hard to find

The district says it will prioritize testing symptomatic students for now.

Students showing symptoms of COVID-19 can get tested at the district’s centralized testing hub at SMSD’s Early Childhood Education Center.

Currently, though, Ziegler said there is a two- to three-day wait to schedule a COVID-19 test through the district. That may force students needing to be tested to miss school while they wait to get tested and receive their results.

Ziegler suggested Monday that “Test to Stay” could return once there was less urgent demand for testing.

“I am hopeful that we can get our symptomatic family members, our students, our staff taken care of and then get back to ‘Test to Stay’,” Ziegler said.

The district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan now also states the following:

“Testing for those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will be prioritized at the SMSD testing site. Test to Stay will be available as capacity allows. When community transmission and testing demands are high, test to stay may be suspended until testing demands decrease.”

Ziegler said MAWD Pathology, the Lenexa-based lab conducting the district COVID-19 testing, will test families on Sunday, Jan. 16.

There will also be testing available on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 17, with the aim of restarting the “Test to Stay” program later that week.

Change to masking rules

The school board on Monday also approved changes to its current COVID-19 mitigation plan — most notably, an additional circumstance in which universal masking can be implemented.

Currently, masks are technically optional in secondary schools, but if an individual building’s positivity rate is more than 3%, everyone in the building must wear a mask for two weeks or until the rate decreases.

Since the start of the new semester, all 11 of the district’s secondary schools have returned to mandatory masking due to the high rate of spread in middle and high school buildings.

Now, with changes to the plan approved Monday, all secondary buildings will implement full mask requirements if both of the following are true:

  • The positivity rate in an individual building cannot be determined because of extended district breaks, including spring break
  • JCDHE’s COVID-19 dashboard shows an 8% positivity rate — which is the mark for substantial transmission, Ziegler said — or higher in the community.

In a case like this, data will be collected for one week to determine individual building rates, and schools under the 3% threshold can return to optional masking.

Ziegler said the district found itself in a “unique situation” following winter break as it didn’t know what COVID-19 positivity rates looked like in schools.

“This is a safeguard for that in the future,” Ziegler said.

The updated masking rules currently do not impact the district’s elementary schools, which are still required to have universal masking under a countywide public health order.

Adopting CDC quarantine guidance

The plan was also adjusted to include updated quarantine guidance from the CDC.

Under that guidance, if an individual tests positive for COVID-19 or is symptomatic, no matter their vaccination status, they must stay home for five days.

The individual can then return to school but must wear a mask for days 6 to 10 after testing positive. They should also avoid participating in activities where wearing a mask is difficult or impossible.

If a fully vaccinated and boosted individual is exposed to COVID-19, they must wear a mask for 10 days following that exposure, get a test on day 5 and stay six feet away from others.

Asymptomatic staff members will not be recommended to quarantine if they show proof of vaccination.

Additionally, if a secondary school is above the 3% threshold and requires masks, masks will be required for winter events like art performances and sports activities in that building, as well.

This also applies to the district’s aquatic center in Lenexa. If a school that’s above the 3% threshold is hosting a meet, masks are required for that swim or dive meet.

The board of education unanimously approved the updates to the plan.

The updates go into effect starting Tuesday, Jan. 11, and will also “apply to all previously identified cases currently excluded,” according to district documents.