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County schools to test unvaccinated in winter sports, fine arts

As activities begin to move indoors during cold-weather months, Harford County Public Schools will require students participating in winter sports and after-school fine arts to take weekly a COVID-19 test if they are not already vaccinated. The testing program is set to start next month.

Some parents who attended Monday’s school board meeting were critical of the requirement and called it discriminatory.

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Vaccinated students can choose not to participate in after-school testing, which will begin for winter sports and fine arts Nov. 15.

The school system also has been offering testing to prevent large numbers of quarantined students. According to the system’s recovery plan, students and employees who develop possible COVID-19 symptoms in a school day are given the option to take a rapid test. If the test is negative, a polymerase chain reaction – or PCR – test will be offered.

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“A COVID-19 testing program will reduce the number of students and staff needing to quarantine and will reduce disruptions,” the plan stated.

Last month, the school system modified its quarantine protocols, reducing required days out for symptomatic students from 14 to 10. Students also now will only be considered in close contact when they are unmasked.

Asymptomatic vaccinated students are exempt from quarantining.

During the school board meeting, several parents and one student criticized the protocols. Sam Meros, a student, said being required to quarantine caused him to fail assignments. Parents referred to testing as segregation and claimed testing students who are not vaccinated creates division.

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“Either test every single kid, or test none of the kids,” said parent Bryan Zorn. “Testing only the unvaccinated, that’s a little bit discriminatory. And where’s the equity in that?”

Mary Nasuta, the supervisor of health services, said on Monday the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Maryland Department of Health stated people who are vaccinated have the option of not participating in screening programs.

“There’s always a potential that people can have break-through infections, but they’re exceedingly more rare,” Nasuta said.

Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson noted that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance last week. The CDC website stated that “fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 [should] be tested 5-7 days after exposure, regardless of whether they have symptoms.”

Bulson pointed out that the state has not updated its guidelines to match the CDC’s and still makes a distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated.

“I know we’ve seen more break-through cases,” he said. “We’ve seen them in our students and staff as well.”

The system’s dashboard stated this week that 476 students are in isolation, 486 are in quarantine, 627 students have tested positive from the 4,808 tests that were administered. It also states 61 staffers are in isolation, 19 staff are in quarantine, 107 have tested positive of the 402 tests that were administered.

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