Longview ISD testing

Longview ISD board members vote Monday during a special-called meeting about beta testing for COVID-19 at the high school.

Longview ISD will conduct a trial run of COVID-19 testing on the Longview High School campus for those who want to participate starting Wednesday.

At a special meeting Monday, the board voted 4-1 to allow the testing. Place 2 Trustee Ava Welge voted against the action, and trustees Chris Mack and Troy Simmons were not present.

Students will need to have parental consent to be tested, Superintendent James Wilcox said. The cheek-swab saliva test will be available for a limited number of students and staff members to sign up for the two-week trial run, according to the district. Online signup will be available on the district’s website.

Wilcox said after getting the initial rapid test, those participating will then get a finger-prick blood test to check for antibodies on Friday. The company U.S. MedTest, he said, will administer and cover the cost of the testing.

“They’re doing this as a case study — if you want — to show that this will actually work,” Wilcox said. “Our hope is it gets the attention of the governor, Lt. Governor (Dan) Patrick, (Education) Commissioner (Mike) Morath to say, ‘Hey, we want to continue to fund this for however long in Longview to see if we can develop a protocol for the state.’”

Longview ISD is not the first school district in the state to begin mass COVID-19 testing. Somerset ISD in San Antonio began mass testing in September.

Wilcox said several districts in the area already have closed for some time because of COVID-19, and area football games have been canceled or rescheduled.

“What we want to do is develop, or help assist in developing, a protocol that will keep schools open that will keep football, band, volleyball, UIL, One Act Play to all continue,” he said. “But everything we’ve seen has been reactive instead of proactive. We’re trying to be proactive instead of waiting until it happens and running around with our hands in the air saying, “No, we have to close school.’”

Welge said she has concerns about the accuracy of the testing. She said the nasal swab is most accurate, but the district never considered the nasal swab.

She said the other testing method returns accurate results about 60% of the time.

“I just don’t think this is the ideal time for us to do it,” Welge said. She said she does not want to give people a false sense of security if someone has a false negative test result.

Board President Ginia Northcutt said during the meeting she wanted to clarify the testing method the district will employ already is in use; it is not testing a new type of test such as a breath card test. Wilcox said at a meeting this past month that he would like to use a breath card test, which he said was being pursued by three companies that ended up suing each other.

Parent Andy Sumrow spoke during the open forum portion of the meeting and expressed concerns with the testing.

“Myself, along with some other parents, are in the same boat here on this testing,” he said. “There’s not much, if any, transparency.”

He said he wanted to know who will administer the testing, what type of test will be used and if there will be repercussions for students who opt out of the testing.

Northcutt said there will be no repercussions for those who choose not to be tested.

Sumrow said there is a petition with thousands of signatures against the testing being circulated.

“This could all be avoided if the board would take the notice upfront saying this is what we’re going to be doing,” he said. “We just need more transparency up front from y’all, and that will be greatly appreciated.”

Place 1 Trustee Michael Tubb said as long as the testing is completely voluntary, he supports the testing and giving students and staff that option.

Welge added she thinks the district safety committee has done an “exceptional job” and noted the district’s low infection rate.

On Monday afternoon, the district reported a total of 63 staff and student COVID-19 cases since the start of the school year with all but 10 of those recovered. The district’s dashboard of COVID-19 cases can be found at https://tinyurl.com/lisdcoronavirus .

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Kristen is the News-Journal's education reporter. A Longview native, she got a journalism degree and a graduate certificate at Texas Tech University. She covers a variety of issues, including school finance, board meetings and happenings at local schools.