In a hastily called special board meeting Wednesday, the Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees decided against testing every student and staff member for COVID-19.
Trustee Kate Mead said she requested the meeting to discuss a districtwide testing program that would provide a baseline of data. The proposed action would have attempted to do the testing before school starts Tuesday.
That idea was quickly shot down.
“Under the current conditions, it would be difficult ... to test all the children before school starts,” Teton County Health Department Director Jodie Pond told the board. “We will not be able to do that for you and help you get that done before next Tuesday.”
Given that the meeting was called just eight hours before the board convened, the plan was short on details, but the gist of the proposal was that the district would cover costs to test all students and staff. Superintendent Gillian Chapman said the program would cost about $280,000, because tests are $100 each and she anticipated that about 2,800 of the district’s roughly 3,000 kids would opt for testing.
Trustees didn’t balk so much at the price tag, but instead at the difficulty of trying to do the tests by Tuesday and at Pond’s assertion that blanket testing wasn’t the best use of resources.
“There’s sort of an ongoing issue with what do you do after the first round?” Pond said. “Without continued surveillance, it doesn’t really help us. It’s a point-in-time test.”
Trustees Annie Band and Kate Mead were the only two board members to vote in favor of districtwide testing. Both have raised the potential of doing so in the past few board meetings, though Wednesday was the first time testing had been considered as a board action.
Trustees Janine Bay Teske and Keith Gingery and Chairwoman Betsy Carlin voted against the measure, so the vote didn’t even garner a majority of the present members. No matter how many of the board’s seven trustees are in attendance, a vote needs a majority of the entire board to pass, so the testing proposal would have needed at least a 4-1 majority to pass. Bill Scarlett and Alan Brumstead did not attend the meeting.
The school board also considered surveillance testing for the football and volleyball teams. Since the athletes spend time in close proximity to others, the idea would be to monitor them more closely than the general student population.
Chapman told the board that the program would cost $80,000 for weekly testing of the athletes. Again, trustees weren’t overwhelmed by the price, but they were wary of other problems the surveillance testing could pose.
“There’s some equity issues here with the school district spending a huge amount of money just to test athletes when there’s going to be probably pretty rapid exposure to the main student body should we have a positive case,” Band said.
Ultimately, Band said she would “never vote no on testing,” and Carlin and Mead joined her in support of the athlete testing, with Gingery and Teske opposed. Even though the motion carried, it lacked the four votes it needed, so it, too, failed.
The last agenda item gave Chapman license to exceed her normal spending limit, which is $25,000 without board approval, for COVID-19 mitigation. Though the language of the motion doesn’t include this, the trustees made it clear that the increase was meant for funds the district procures through philanthropy and grants, not for money from its general fund.
That vote carried unanimously.
Though librarian Melissa Snider was able to give public comment, the district didn’t give notice of the meeting in accordance with Wyoming’s open meeting laws, which may have limited the number of parents able to listen or participate. Regulations say notice of a special meeting must be provided to local media at least eight hours in advance, via the board’s email list, which includes the Jackson Hole Daily.
Information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said info on the meeting was posted to the district’s website and Facebook page but not emailed out. The district recognizes the oversight was “a mistake,” she said, and added that staff members were creating a system that would automatically send alerts in the future.
“We’ve addressed it to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “And we apologize if that oversight left anyone feeling like they were unable to fully engage in the board’s decision-making process.”