COVID-19 test being processed in Boise, file

A COVID-19 test is processed in Boise in this Idaho Press file photo from April 23, 2020.

While some school districts in Idaho will receive funding for COVID-19 tests, both public school districts in the Idaho Falls area have declined the opportunity.

School districts in the state are close to receiving money from a $30 million fund for school coronavirus testing, Idaho Education News reported on Wednesday.

In August, Gov. Brad Little announced the state was allocating $30 million from the state’s COVID-19 funds to make COVID-19 testing available for school districts. A proposal for Idaho school districts to receive $40 million in federal funds to help pay for voluntary COVID-19 testing of students and staff failed in the Idaho House of Representatives earlier this year.

Both Idaho Falls School District 91 and Bonneville Joint School District 93 have not requested money from the fund, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Public Information Manager Niki Forbing-Orr confirmed in an email to the Post Register on Thursday.

District 93 Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said the district did want to gauge parents’ interest in coronavirus testing at school. A district update sent to parents on Thursday includes a link to a survey for the district to get a sense of how parents feel about testing.

“I still have a lot of reservations about (testing),” Woolstenhulme said. “My belief is that our community feels it’s an invasion of privacy.”

He said he also didn’t want the district to add potential hurdles for staff since the district is already understaffed.

The one area where testing made sense for Woolstenhulme was for students that have been exposed to COVID-19, he said. This would help get them back to school more quickly if the district hits the red phase of if its COVID Response Plan, which has a threshold of 50 new cases in the district within a week.

At the red phase, students without COVID-19 immunity may return to school after taking a COVID-19 test no sooner than five days after the date of exposure and receiving a negative test result. Students who do not receive a negative test result will be excluded from school for two weeks from the date of their most recent exposure.

According to district data posted on Thursday, the weekly average of new cases is 44.9.

Woolstenhulme said he has contacted Health and Welfare for more information about testing. Any action the district takes with testing will likely be approved as a change to its response plan by the board of trustees.

Margaret Wimborne, Idaho Falls District 91 communications and community engagement director, said the district has discussed wanting testing kits available for schools, but at this point, they are not seeking to test students.

She said the main factor for choosing not to use the testing funds was because managing the testing program would be an intensive undertaking, and the district wants to focus on teaching and learning.

“It’s a matter of if it makes more sense for us to handle testing or to have that done by medical providers in our community,” Wimborne said. “As a school district, our focus is on teaching and learning.”

On Monday, District 91 reported there were 23 COVID-19 cases from Sept. 13 to Sept. 17 among students and staff.

Idaho Education News reported 13 schools and districts have applied to receive money and 46 have signaled interest by Wednesday. Combined, more than $3.5 million has been requested.

Teton County School District 401 has requested testing funding. Clark County School District 161 has expressed interest but has not formally requested funding yet.

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