SALT LAKE CITY — A new review from the Utah legislature recommends the use of “test to stay” programs rather than so-called “soft closures” of schools because of COVID-19 case counts.
The audit, from the Utah Office of the Legislative Auditor General, found ‘Test to Stay’ policies lessen the interruption of in-class learning at school when active cases of COVID-19 exceed the threshold.
A soft closure means schools pivot to online learning when active cases of COVID-19 exceed the state’s recommended threshold of 15 per school; ‘Test to Stay’ policies give schools the option to stay open for students who test negative for COVID-19, while students who test positive move to at-home learning.
Audit recommends ditching soft closures for Test to Stay
The review examined conditions for the current school year and recommends schools drop the soft closures policy.
“While soft closure at the time was a useful policy, additional data and the increased availability of testing supplies suggest it is time to reevaluate the soft closure policy and consider “Test to Stay” as the primary option to control outbreaks,” the review states.
Auditors examined 20 schools in three school districts in Utah, each of which experienced at least one soft closure. At one school, students missed 22 days of in-person learning, or roughly 44% of the scheduled instructional days. 12 of the schools experienced two or three soft closures.
In-person options limit disparities, some say
The review said political leaders and health professionals champion in-person instruction because “when schools are closed to in-person instruction, disparities in educational outcomes could become wider.”
Auditors recommend that Utah school districts and charter schools, local health departments and the Utah Department of Health increase efforts to publicize the benefits of ‘Test to Stay’, as parental consent is required for students to participate.
It also recommends schools consider moving to ‘Test to Stay’ as their primary mitigation option when responding to a school outbreak as it allows the opportunity for uninterrupted in-person instruction.
Health officials will work with the state school board, local schools and health departments to identify barriers and strategies to overcome them, said Utah Department of Health Executive Director Rich Saunders.
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