Parents appear split on pooled testing programs that started in some Midcoast school districts last week.

While the Lisbon School Department and Bath-area Regional School Unit-1 started the pooled testing program on Sept.13, the Topsham-area Maine School Administrative District 75 and Brunswick School Department will begin the testing at all its schools later this month.

Of the 393 schools enrolled in the program statewide, only 66 had begun testing as of last week, while the others are in various stages of getting set up, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The pooled testing is open to 710 public and private schools that have the option of enrolling.

Julie Nicholas, Lisbon’s director of curriculum, said that 285 students have signed up for the testing across four schools in the district as of Sept. 13, and they have received many requests over the weekend from parents to add students.

“We began pooled testing on Sept.13 with our community school. Each school has a different day of the week for testing,” said Nicholas. “I don’t think the testing is bothering the students at all. I was with a group of students today who were all giggling because it tickles. Our nurse is very responsive to them, and they like her a lot.”

Ashley Manchester, whose child attends Lisbon Community School, said she has opted in for the pooled testing for her daughter because she thinks it is important for everyone’s safety.

“I chose to sign my daughter up for it. My daughter has been educated about this pandemic and how we can help since the beginning,” said Manchester. “She asked to be tested once she realized it was an option. I will also have her vaccinated the moment a vaccine is available for her age group. I feel like if nothing else, it will ease our minds a bit.”

Pooled testing is a preventative measure that allows schools to trace very low levels of COVID-19 infection before the infectious stage. This ability allows schools to essentially head off exposure and outbreaks at the classroom/grade level.

In Topsham-area Maine School Administrative District 75, pooled testing is anticipated to start next week.

Bob Lucy, the district’s interim superintendent, said 36% of students have enrolled for the pooled testing whose parents and guardians have signed them up for the program.

In Bath-area Regional School Unit-1, less than 50% of students and staff have opted for the pooled testing across six schools in the district.

Tiffanie Taylor, whose kid attends Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, said she thinks the pooled testing is unnecessary.

“I don’t believe in subjecting my child to constant random testing. Especially since these kids are in masks every day, I feel it’s unnecessary,” said Taylor.

Similarly, Sandy Smith, a Lisbon parent, feels that everyone should research COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

“I am not an expert, but I have already seen documents that they are giving false positives and negatives results. Go beyond Google. Go to the source. We all want what’s best for our kids,” said Smith.

The Brunswick School Department sent out parental permission forms last week and would start the testing in grades Pre-K to 6 soon.

Jen Carroll, whose two children attend Bowdoin Central School and are COVID-19 positive, said the pooled testing is a good idea considering the rapid spread of the virus.

“I think the pooled testing is extremely helpful in detecting the cases that are asymptomatic, and right now my kids are both home with COVID, so the fewer the kids that have to miss school and the faster they detect the virus, the better off they are,” said Carroll.

Since the start of the academic year, 14 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the Regional School Unit 5 , one case has been reported in Bath-area Regional School Unit 1, Lisbon School District recorded five cases, 13 cases were recorded at Brunswick School Department, and six cases at Topsham-area Maine School Administrative District-75 were recorded.

“If a pooled test result comes back positive, the nurse returns and does individual swabs on each of the specimens in that pool. If a positive is noted, the person goes home. They quarantine for 10 days,” said Nicholas. However, students may not test out of quarantine.

Participation in pooled testing is voluntary. Students who do not participate cannot be barred from in-person learning opportunities solely because they do not participate. However, those not participating in the program who are identified as close contacts will need to quarantine and be out of school for that period, according to the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, 85 children with COVID 19 were admitted to hospitals across Maine between Aug.1, 2020, and Sept.20, 2021, according to U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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