vaccinated kids

Staff and Student Testing

For this school year 2021-2022, we are hopeful that there will be less disruption so that our students can re-engage with the robust educational opportunities that the Salem Public Schools offers. However, we know that the virus is still with us, and we must continue to mitigate the risks to our community members. We have taken extraordinary steps to protect our students and staff with health and safety guidance that can be found in our family health handbook. As we have been accustomed to, this guidance is likely to shift throughout the school year as we learn more about COVID-19 and its variants.

COVID Checks for Staff and Students

Formerly called surveillance testing, weekly COVID checks are quick, easy, on-site COVID-19 tests that SPS will offer for all staff and students every week. COVID checks empower our district to identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic cases of COVID-19 that may unknowingly be coming into our schools and prevent the spread of the virus. 

Each student administers the safety check on a weekly basis. Samples are collected at school in groups of 5-10 individuals. Once the samples get to the lab, all the samples in the group are tested for COVID-19 together. Results take 24-48 hours, and individuals can continue to come to school while awaiting safety check results. If a safety check test is positive, the staff and/or students in the group will take individual rapid tests to determine which student(s) in the group produced the positive test.

Signing up and consent for student testing

Please download and print this consent form if you’d like your student to participate in Covid-19 testing. Please deliver this consent to the front office of your school.

Electronic consent form
Printable consent form in English
Printable Consent form in Spanish

Weekly Covid-19 Checks is one layer of protection that helps us attend school in person safely.

  • It can quickly detect, trace, and isolate COVID-19 positive individuals. This will help us lower the risk of transmission and allow us to have more consistent in-person instruction.
  • Testing is quick and easy and is not painful or invasive and participating in the testing program is free
  • The program is voluntary but is strongly encouraged to help reduce the spread of COVID-19
  • Guardians need to sign a one-time consent form for their students to participate in pooled testing.
  • The testing process is fast, easy, and does not hurt. Here are some video examples. We recommend you use one of these or create your own featuring a school leader or student

Video: Science for Kids – Nasal Swab
Video: Watertown School Nurse taking a COVID-19 test
Video: Child Self-Swabbing
Social Story: What if I need to be tested for COVID-19? Developed by Community Autism Resources

How does pooled testing work?


Health and Safety

The health and well-being of the children in our care is a top priority for all of our schools.  If you have a specific concern or a health issue you wish to discuss confidentially, please contact your school nurse.

The goal is to ensure the safety of our staff and students and to minimize disruption to learning for our students and their families.

Multi-layered approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19:

The best way to combat the spread of this virus is to implement a multi-layered approach, as each layer builds upon the others to reduce the probability of the spread of the virus.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/05/health/coronavirus-swiss-cheese-infection-mackay.html

The following outlines our strategy, including our multi-layered approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19:

  • Masks for all while in school buildings and on buses (except while outdoors, eating, and on mask breaks),
  • Encouraging all eligible people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, including hosting on-site clinics,
  • COVID-19 testing offered in schools through routine COVID safety checks (previously referred to as pooled testing) and Test and Stay to reduce or eliminate the need for close contacts to quarantine,
  • Strong ventilation through open windows, verified and maintained HVAC systems, and supplemental HEPA air filters,
  • Encouraging outdoor meals as much as possible,
  • Relaxed physical distancing except in the case of mask breaks or indoor meals,
  • Staying home when sick and families committing to daily COVID symptom checks,
  • Strong health & hygiene, including teaching and ensuring students regularly wash or sanitize their hands
  • Continued enhanced cleaning protocols
  • Limiting visitors to school buildings and promoting virtual and outdoor opportunities for family engagement

This approach incorporates the two sets of recommendations unanimously adopted by the Salem School Committee on August 9th and 16th in preparation for reopening.

The complete Health Handbook for Students and Families can be found HERE in English and HERE in Spanish.


Updated Frequently Asked Questions for January 2022

What should I do if I or my child tests positive at home (with or without symptoms) or I believe I/they may have Covid-19?

Do not come to work or school and stay at home.

Staff:

  1. Report your impending absence to your supervisor by your usual mode of communication.
  2. Call your primary care provider to inform them of the test results/symptoms and obtain instructions for isolation or quarantine.
  3. Inform your supervisor of your plan to return to work. *For Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave due to Covid-related illness, signed documentation from a licensed healthcare provider is required and must be provided to Human Resources. Please contact Dave Turcotte (978-740-1115) or Nancy Weiss (978-740-1115) for further information on these laws.

Students:

  1. Adult caregivers call the child’s primary care provider (PCP) to inform them of test results/symptoms and obtain instructions for isolation or quarantine.
  2. Notify your child’s school of your child’s absence and the plan for their return to school. *Signed documentation from a licensed healthcare provider for isolation requiring more than 5 school days is required and must be provided to your child’s teacher upon return.

Staff Caring for Sick Children/Family Members:

  1. Report your impending absence to your supervisor by your usual mode of communication.
  2. Call the sick person’s primary care provider (PCP) to inform them of test results/symptoms and obtain instructions for isolation or quarantine.
  3. Inform your supervisor of your plan to return to work. *For Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave due to Covid-related illness, signed documentation from a licensed healthcare provider is required and must be provided to Human Resources. Please contact Dave Turcotte (978-740-1115) or Nancy Weiss (978-740-1115) for further information on these laws.

How do we determine when Day 5 is to return to school?

Counting during COVID: It is important to know when to start counting days to accurately apply the new guidance, and it is not always intuitive. Please follow these steps:

  • Day 0 = day of symptom onset or positive test. We begin counting the next day.
  • Day 1 = first day after symptom onset or positive test.
  • Day 5 = required isolation for all positive individuals.
  • Day 6 = earliest possible day of return to school with a negative antigen test if an individual was positive or at least 72 hours symptom free.
  • Example: Positive test Wednesday (12/29), Day 1 = Thursday (12/30), Day 5 = Monday (1/3), earliest day of return is Day 6 = Tuesday (1/4) (the following week) after the positive test or the symptoms began pending Option 1 or Option 2 guidance below.

How do we know if an individual is “symptom free”?

To return to school, individuals must be without a fever or other symptoms without using any fever reducing or cold/flu medicine for at least 24 hours. Please review the list of COVID-19 symptoms below. We will be applying this to the best of our ability as a community. For example, if an individual is otherwise symptom free but still is a bit fatigued, this would be considered without symptoms if there is no combination of other symptoms. In addition, if all other symptoms have resolved and an individual still has not regained taste and smell, but this is not a new symptom, this would be considered ‘without symptoms.’

How do we apply Option 1 or 2 for an individual who was positive?

The CDC has reduced the recommended isolation time from 10 days to 5 days. Rapid antigen tests, to date, correlate closely with infectiousness. If returning to school prior to the full 10 day isolation period, SPS is requiring a negative rapid test to return to school OR three days symptom free. The days without symptoms can begin before day 5 but students cannot return until five full days of isolation, or on day 6.

  • Those who do not have a test must be symptom free for 72 hours. The 72 hours can begin on day one for those who are fully asymptomatic (but they cannot return before day 6).
  • All individuals returning prior to the full 10 days of isolation need a confirmatory one-time negative rapid test at school on the morning they return. Therefore, individuals may ONLY return prior to 10 days if they have consent to test prior to returning. We cannot give tests without consent so students will need to be picked up if they do not have consent.

How will testing work upon returning from isolation?

For staff returning from isolation before Day 10: Staff must complete an at-home rapid test and get a negative result to return prior to day 10 of isolation. Additional tests can be picked up at SHS on Sunday, January 2nd, from 11am-2pm. On Monday morning, please report to the isolation room at your school at least 20 minutes before students arrive to complete the iHealth test. You may leave before the 15 minutes are complete, and there will be instructions for how to leave the test. Testing team members will be there to read and confirm results.

For students returning from isolation before Day 10: Please remember no one can return to school prior to Day 6 (see above for how to count). If your student is between day 6 and day 10, students must have consent to test to return to school (Please click HERE to enroll in testing). If this is the case, please send your child to school with a note that includes the following information:

  • I am writing to inform you that my student was positive for COVID-19 over the winter break.
  • Date symptoms began or that the student was asymptomatic
  • Date individual became symptom free
  • Date of positive test

Students should be instructed to give the note to their homeroom teacher immediately upon arrival. The testing team is working with each school to ensure someone is there to support testing Monday morning. Students will be sent to the nurse’s office to meet the testers to get their confirmatory negative test.

What happens if an individual is vaccinated and has been in close contact with someone who is positive over winter break?

Vaccinated individuals who were home-based contacts over the holiday should use the rapid test Sunday night or Monday morning to determine whether they can return. If they are negative, they can return.

What happens if an individual is vaccinated and has been in close contact with someone who is positive over winter break?

Unvaccinated individuals who were home-based contacts over the holiday must quarantine for five days (returning on the sixth) with day zero being the last day of contact. If it is not possible to isolate from the positive case, day zero begins the day the positive would be released from isolation as indicated above. We strongly recommend using the rapid test on day five or six after exposure to test the unvaccinated close contact.

What if an individual has light symptoms but has not been able to get a test?

Please remember, daily symptom checks are an essential layer of protection to mitigate the spread of the virus. If an individual has any symptoms, they must stay home from school and contact their primary care provider first, and then the school. Individuals will still be required to get a negative test to return to school if symptomatic.

How can I consent for my student to participate in testing?

Please click HERE to enroll in testing. Please note, per the state guidance, consent is for all components of the testing program. SPS is not able to provide electronic consent to individual portions of the testing program. If students are not enrolled in the testing program, they must isolate for the full 10 days prior to returning to school in the event that they are positive.

Full Isolation & Quarantine Guidance

Isolation & Quarantine Guidance: With the CDC’s recent shift in guidance regarding quarantine and isolation periods, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has also updated their guidance to districts. Given the unique environment of schools, in addition to the requirements from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Salem Public Schools will require a negative antigen test to exit isolation prior to Day 10 (Day 0 being the onset of symptoms or date of positive test).

  1. Isolation: If a student or staff member has tested positive, all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, should isolate for at least 5 days from symptom onset or from the date of the positive test.
    1. Option 1: After the 5-day period has passed, if the isolating individual has been fever free and is not experiencing symptoms* for at least 24 hours, they may take an antigen Covid test at home (NOT a PCR-based or molecular test) to be eligible to return to school.
    2. Option 2: If staff and students are unable to access a rapid test (SPS will do our best to assist in providing access), the individual must have no fever or symptoms for 72 hours without the use of any medication.  
    3. For either option 1 or 2, individuals must test negative at school upon return. See below for further information.
    4. If individuals do not consent to the test, they must isolate for the full 10 days, in accordance with the previous guidance on isolation times from the CDC and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
  2. Quarantine: When a student or staff member is a close contact in school, we utilize the “Test and Stay” (rapid antigen test) program for five days.  Previously, only unvaccinated individuals could participate in the testing.  Beginning next week, all vaccinated staff and students who are deemed close contacts will be able to take a test given what we have learned about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and have the option to participate in additional testing.  As a reminder, unvaccinated close contacts that do not consent to participate in Test and Stay must quarantine and remain symptom free for at least five days.

Covid-19 General Frequently Asked Questions:

Do students have to wear a mask inside?

Yes. All individuals, whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated, are required to wear masks when indoors at Salem Public Schools.

Do students have to wear a mask outside?

No. Outdoors, the risk of spread is much lower due to the free movement of air. Students and staff do not have to wear masks when outdoors, regardless of whether physical distancing is maintained.

Can teachers remove their mask while teaching from the front of the class?

No. Adults must remain masked, particularly when with our students.

What kind of mask do students need to wear?

SPS is not requiring a specific type of mask, but it must be at least two-ply (two layers) and cannot be a bandana. SPS strongly recommends finding a mask that fits well. Here is guidance from the CDC on a mask that fits well, as well as information on the different types of masks. In addition, disposable surgical masks are effective. If you need help identifying whether your mask fits well, please visit your school nurse.

Should we continue regular hand washing or hand sanitizing?

Proper hand washing is one of the most important steps in preventing illness (CDC, 2020). If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Prior to returning to the classrooms, families should review CDC guidelines on proper handwashing with their students. School nurses will reinforce the importance of proper and frequent handwashing to students through demonstration. During the school day students, staff, and individuals in the educational setting will be encouraged to wash hands or use 60% ethanol fragrance free hand sanitizer frequently. Key times for student, teachers, and staff to wash hands or use sanitizer will include:

  • When arriving at school
  • After blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After using the restroom
  • Before and after touching one’s face
  • Before and after eating
  • After being outside
  • After touching garbage
  • Before and after providing routine care to another person who needs assistance (e.g., a child)

How and where will students wash or sanitize their hands?

SPS will continue having sanitizing stations at the entrance and/or exit of all spaces – classrooms, shared spaces, and buildings. These stations will have hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

All students and staff should sanitize their hands when entering or exiting all spaces, particularly when coming into the building or into the classroom. Staff should model this practice with students.

Is there guidance or are there restrictions on classroom set up this year?

There are very few restrictions on classroom setups this year. We encourage our educators to maximize their spaces for learning, establishing the set-up that is best for their students. This includes using small group spaces, classroom rugs, reading tables, and flexible groupings to maximize student engagement and learning. To ensure all educators can effectively implement the health & safety components, SPS provided the following recommendations:

  • If mask breaks will take place indoors as outlined above, identify how students will know that they are at least three feet apart. Desks are not required to be set up in rows with three-foot distance, but educators will make it clear how students can ensure they are three feet apart in the event of an indoor mask break.
  • Educators will ensure that they have accurate seating charts. While distancing is not required, contact tracing will continue. Educators will ensure that they are able to effectively contact trace within their rooms.
  • SPS continues to monitor and limit the capacity of bathrooms to the number of stalls available.

Are students allowed to share supplies and materials?

Schools no longer have to avoid sharing objects. This includes classroom materials, items for physical education, or art supplies. Shared objects no longer have to be cleaned or disinfected between use and should follow updated cleaning guidance.

Are visitors allowed in the building this year?

Yes, SPS has relaxed the visitor policy and visitors are permitted when the meetings or purpose are necessary. SPS will still encourage limiting outside visitors when possible. One of the main takeaways from the past year is the increased access that remote options provided for families, and SPS encourages staff to work with families to determine the best modality for small meetings (i.e., IEP meetings or family conferences). SPS’s universal mask policy will apply to all visitors, and visitors must check-in and complete their COVID questionnaire attesting that they do not have symptoms in order to enter (very similar to last year).

Are schools allowed to have open houses and/or large family gatherings?

At this time, we are recommending that family gatherings take place outside and/or remotely when possible. We are not recommending large indoor gatherings with members of our broader community. Events that involve food must take place outside. Schools will plan accordingly and share specific details by school with families.

Are students required to participate in COVID Checks (surveillance testing)?

Students are not required to participate in COVID checks to come to school. SPS strongly encourages everyone in our community, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, to participate in the weekly testing checks to maximize health & safety and reduce the risk of spread.

 

Can individuals identified as a close contact while at home (i.e., non-school based close contact) return to school and participate in the Test and Stay program?

No. The Test and Stay program is intended for school-based close contacts only. Individuals identified as a close contact of an individual outside of school should follow the 7-10 day quarantine dependent on testing.

How many days will an individual be tested during the Test & Stay program?

The duration of the Test and Stay program is 7 days from the date of exposure. Some of these days could be non-school days (i.e., weekends or holidays). Testing is only required on school days, unless the individual participates in school-sponsored sports or extracurricular activities that fall on a non-school day. If the 7th day falls over a non-school day, the individual must be tested on the morning of their return to school. On the 8th day, a student will exit the Test and Stay protocol, assuming all tests were negative, and they remain asymptomatic

Can I find out if my child’s teacher is vaccinated?

No. The vaccination status of any individual is private health information and SPS cannot and will not share that information with families. However, SPS is taking proactive measures both to support staff to be vaccinated and to require COVID checks in the case that any staff members are not vaccinated. If staff are not vaccinated, the Salem School Committee, in line with the City of Salem, requires staff to receive COVID checks twice per week.

We traveled over a holiday or break. What are the requirements for safely returning to MA?

SPS is following the State of Massachusetts travel guidance. If you are fully vaccinated, you can travel within the United States. If you are not fully vaccinated or if you are traveling internationally, please review the CDC guidance as recommended by the State of Massachusetts. If you are returning to the US from international travel, this guidance includes the requirement to be tested before returning to the United States and to test upon arrival home, with guidance differing based on whether or not you are vaccinated.

My student is fully vaccinated. Will they have to quarantine?

No. All asymptomatic, fully vaccinated individuals are exempt from close contact testing and quarantine response protocols and therefore do not need to participate in the Test and Stay or quarantine protocol. However, fully vaccinated individuals are expected to monitor for symptoms and stay home and get tested if they experience symptoms, in alignment with statewide guidance.

Is there a remote learning option?

No. The special state policies in place during the past school year regarding remote learning are not an option this year. The state is requiring all students to be physically present in school for full days and will count students as absent if they need to stay home because they are sick. SPS is working to support students in the case that they have to miss an extended period of time due to COVID-19, but the state policy will still identify the students as absent. A parent can choose to homeschool or enroll their child in one of the state’s virtual school options.

What if I’m not comfortable sending my child to school?

SPS does not have a virtual school option. We encourage you to work with your child’s teacher and/or principal if you have specific concerns that we can partner with you to address.

Some students are unable to attend school due to a documented, longer-term medical need. Upon receipt of a physician’s written order verifying that a student enrolled in a public school or placed by the public school in a private setting must remain at home or in a hospital on a day or overnight basis, or any combination of both, for medical reasons and for a period of not less than fourteen school days in any school year, the principal shall arrange for provision of educational services to provide the student with the opportunity to make educational progress even when a physician determines that the student is physically unable to attend school.

Please note that home and hospital services apply only to students with documented medical needs. To learn more about home and hospital services, please read the Question and Answer Guide on the Implementation of Educational Services in the Home or Hospital (download) and review the physician affirmation forms here. For additional questions, please email specialeducation@doe.mass.edu.  The only alternative is enrolling in one of the state’s virtual school options or homeschooling.