PPS Announces New COVID-19 Screening Program

COVID-19 screening consent form placed next to the form drop box located in Franklin High School’s main hallway. The PPS district has implemented a new optional COVID-19 screening program and forms are available for all students. Photo by Luke Ramsey.

Franklin High School (FHS), like the rest of the schools in the Portland Public Schools (PPS) district, will be participating in a free weekly voluntary COVID-19 testing program. Interested participants can fill out consent and health authorization forms that will be provided by their school. At Franklin, online versions of the form will be attached to weekly newsletters sent out to the community by Principal’s Secretary Elizabeth Avila. Once students submit their opt-in forms, the schools will receive testing kits from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). The school is then the middleman throughout the process, distributing kits on Wednesdays to student participants who then administer the test at home and bring it back to the school on Thursday mornings, where OHSU collects them again to process them.

This program is a partnership between OHSU and PPS and is based on guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Education, Multnomah County and their partners at the Multnomah Education Service District (MESD).

On their website PPS reassures families the tests are simple and quick. All OHSU needs is the participants’ saliva in a vial in order to perform a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, this is a diagnostic test that determines infection by checking saliva samples for genetic material from the virus.

Once OHSU determines the result of the COVID test, they send the results back to the individual participant, not the school. “Yes, [the program] is being supported by Portland Public schools but it’s really [a] partnership between OHSU, the student, and their family,” says Franklin principal Chris Frazier. “The opting schools are just serving as the conduit to receive the information and help the process [along].”

According to the PPS website, the district is “prioritizing schools serving K-5 students due to those students not yet being eligible to receive the vaccine.” According to the statement, testing will begin shortly after all schools have completed registration. Delays with equipment have slowed down the screening program process, which means schools are still on the data collection step of the testing process. The Franklin administration specifically hopes to get back on track as soon as possible. Principal Frazier echoed this sentiment by saying, “Ideally in the next week or so we would have the system working.” According to Brenda Martinek, PPS Chief of Student Support Services, the program will only be in effect for the 2021-2022 school year. 

The PPS district has not implemented an official vaccine mandate, although they have held listening sessions and school board meetings to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of a potential mandate. Schools rely on students self reporting vaccination status and COVID-19 testing results. If they test positive, students are expected to contact their school with their results. The administration then sends out a general notification to the school community, including parents and staff, that there has been a positive test result. After contact tracing, which incorporates student interviews with the school nurse to find out where the infected person was during their infectious period and who they may have been around, the school notifies potentially-infected individuals to check their symptoms. Those students are then asked to stay home from school and quarantine as well.

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