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TEA offers schools $800 million for free COVID testing options

Some Brazos Valley schools plan to opt in fully, others will act selectively
Posted at 10:01 PM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 23:01:06-04

The Texas Education Agency is offering a collective $800 million for schools to implement COVID-19 testing if they wish to do so.

Some Brazos Valley school districts are going to be using this money to offer testing for students and staff, while other districts are electing just to use this money for staff testing.

Brazos Valley districts are each being allotted anywhere from $15,000 to more than $1.5 million, depending on the size of the district. Following an application process, this money can be used by the school to bring in a third-party testing vendor of the school’s choice. Districts like Caldwell ISD are ready to take advantage of both rapid and longer form PCR tests, which will be administered by school nursing staff.

“We have found it to be really beneficial, being a rural district, to have testing for our staff and students," said Tracy Ayers, district nurse for Caldwell ISD. "... It’s hard in a small area to get testing. Even though it’s just [a trip to] Bryan-College Station to get a rapid test, a lot of parents don’t even have transportation.”

Bryan ISD is opting to only use the funds for faculty and staff rapid testing capabilities, to be offered at a clinic off-campus.

Spokesperson Matt LeBlanc explained that as Bryan is a more urban school district than smaller surrounding communities, families have better access to free testing for their children off-site.

"With our nurses already being so taxed with everything related to COVID-19, on top of everything else they have to do with their regular duties as a school nurse, we didn’t feel like that was the best use of their time," LeBlanc said.

College Station ISD currently offers free drive-up rapid testing exclusively for faculty and staff, administered by employees such as spokesperson Chuck Glenewinkel, who received certification through the state to do so.

However, Glenewinkel says College Station ISD is already looking into using the TEA grant to implement student testing options, bringing in third-party vendor staff to perform the tests in school.

"If you’re looking at doing a testing program, that takes people," said Glenewinkel. "If there’s a way where we can provide this service for our staff and students without putting out our staff more – and it looks like we’re going to be able to do that through this grant money – if that works out, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The TEA website lists schools which opted out of COVID-19 testing money last year, and who would need to apply anew this year. For the Brazos Valley, that list includes Iola, Richards, and Burton ISD's.

It should be noted that the list states Bryan and College Station ISD's had both opted in, though the respective districts’ representatives claim they never opted in last year.