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Schools begin COVID-19 rapid testing of students, staff

Some schools in Western New York are doing it to keep their buildings open for in-person learning.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Some schools across Western New York began testing their students and staff this week to try to open their buildings in Orange and Yellow Zones.

The head of school at REACH Academy Charter says she wants to have more than 300 students and staff back in the building by December 7. The school began testing its staff Monday and students began receiving rapid tests Tuesday.

"Results are logged into the state. We know which children tested negative and are allowed into school on Monday," said Lisa Cowperthwait, the school nurse at REACH Academy. 

D'Youville College nursing and pharmacy students are helping administer the rapid tests. 

REACH Academy Charter School falls into the Orange Zone. Per state guidelines, any school in an Orange Zone had to switch to remote learning only. That's unless the school is able to get every in-person learner and staff member tested.

REACH's head of school Linda Marszalek says it's the only option. 

"It's just not the same for a 5-year-old in kindergarten who's never been to school to work on a computer and watch school from the outside," Marszalek said. "We've been maintaining all safety protocols and continuing do everything we should do but we are relentlessly doing everything we can to make sure our scholars are in school."

It's the same mindset over at Alden Central Schools.

"Any thought of completely going remote I know would have not sat well with our families, with our teachers," said Superintendent Adam Stoltman. "We believe in in-person learning and we believe we can do so much more for our students sitting before us than having them learn remotely."

Alden is in a Yellow Zone. Even schools in Yellow Zones must test 20 percent of their students and staff who come into the building. 

Stoltman says the school district is testing 25 percent of students and staff Tuesday through Friday. If the infection rate of those tested is below the regional rate, the district won't have to test everyone biweekly. 

The Erie County Department of Health is providing its Limited Service Lab license to schools so they can conduct this kind of testing. Schools are only given it once they can show they can meet and maintain certain operational and safety requirements.