White House Announces Increased investment in COVID-19 Testing at K12 Schools

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White House Announces Increased investment in COVID-19 Testing at K12 Schools

Today, the White House announced it will be expanding its investments in COVID-19 testing at K12 schools by:

  • Sending 5 Million No-Cost Point-of-Care Tests Per Month to Schools.?
  • Providing 5 Million Additional Lab-Based PCR Tests for Free to Schools Per Month
  • Deploying Federal Surge Testing Units to Support Free Testing Access for Students, School Staff, and Families at Community Testing Sites.
  • Connecting Schools with COVID-19 Testing Providers to Set Up School Testing Programs using American Rescue Plan Funds.?
  • New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools.

In a Dear Colleague letter, Secretary Cardona outlined new and existing resources from the federal government that can help you access tests and implement testing programs in your schools. The letter recommended:

  • Using your state's COVID-19 testing program(s) and resources, funded by the CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) program,
  • Accessing free lab-based testing through the CDC Operation Expanded Testing (OpET) program,
  • Connecting with school COVID-19 testing vendors, and
  • Partnering with a community COVID-19 testing site near your school that your students and staff can use.

In response to today’s announcement about expanded support for COVID-19 testing in schools, Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, issued the following statement:

“We applaud this announcement. School superintendents across the nation have been working tirelessly this school year to ensure as robust of an in-person educational opportunity as possible in the current COVID environment, and today’s news is a critical expansion of one of the mitigation strategies schools and system leaders are increasingly relying on: Testing.

“The plan relies on a blended approach of testing supports: Distributing 5 million free, rapid tests to schools each month; providing 5 million additional PCR tests for free to schools each month; organizing surge testing units to support expanded testing needs in communities; working with states and outside organizations to connect schools with testing providers; and distributing additional training, resources and materials related to last month’s Test to Stay policy update.

“These resources are a welcome opportunity for school system leaders working to expand and strengthen the role of testing in their schools’ COVID mitigation work.”?

Full details in the White House press release. You can find Sec. Cardona's full Dear Colleague letter?here. Find the AASA press release here.

AASA Releases Survey Findings on School-Based Vaccination Clinics

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AASA Releases Survey Findings on School-Based Vaccination Clinics

During the first two weeks of December, AASA surveyed hundreds of superintendents across the U.S. to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 clinics for students in school districts. The data sought to gauge the interest of district leaders in continuing to host COVID-19 clinics and clinics for other vaccine-preventable diseases, and identifying the challenges of doing so.

Today, we are excited to release that data as two colorful infographics that we encourage you to share with your community; COVID-19 Clinics in K-12 Schools?and?School-Based Vaccination Programs During and Beyond the Pandemic.

Among the key findings:

  • 53% of districts respondents indicated they were currently offering COVID vaccine clinics for kids ages 5-11
  • 68% of districts respondents hosted vaccination clinics for students ages 12-17.
  • 50% of districts hosted vaccination clinics for students ages 5-11 and 12-17.?
  • 52% of district partnered with local health agencies to host vaccination clinics.?
  • 40% of superintendents indicated they would continue to hold additional or on going COVID-19 clinics for students.?

Superintendents have a critical role to play in complying with state childhood vaccination requirements, expanding the availability of required childhood vaccinations and enabling vulnerable students the opportunity to be vaccinated in school.?With the introduction of this data, we hope it helps your district to implement these school-based clinics.

USDA Announces Adjustment to School Meal Reimbursement Rate

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USDA Announces Adjustment to School Meal Reimbursement Rate

On January 7, USDA announced an adjustment to school meal reimbursement rates that that will allow schools to receive 22% more for school lunches than they would under normal conditions. This move will put an estimated $750 million more into school meal programs across the nation this year, making sure federal reimbursements keep pace with food and operational costs.

School lunch reimbursement rates usually do not increase during the school year. However, this year, due to the pandemic, USDA allowed schools to benefit from the highest rates available, which are normally reserved for the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). By law, these summer rates adjust for inflation annually in January.

At the start of the 2021-2022 school year, the SFSP lunch reimbursement rate for participating schools was already 15% higher than the standard reimbursement for a free lunch. Now, because of higher food costs and other circumstances, schools will receive an additional 25 cents per lunch. This increase beings the total reimbursement rate to 22% higher than the normal rate.?

ICYMI: COVID and Staying in School Manual

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ICYMI: COVID and Staying in School Manual

Over the holiday break, USED released a new resource “2022: Staying in School In Person”. The document outlines four key strategies keep students and staff safe, healthy and ready for in-person learning, including:

1.?Help Students Get Vaccinated

Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic, and the best way to help school communities remain in school, in-person during the pandemic. USED provides resources on how to host school-based vaccination clinics and recommends hosting family vaccine clinics and encouraging all eligible school staff, parents and family members to get vaccinated and a booster shot.

2.?Implement Test to Stay and Provide Screening Testing

The document identifies the key factors in successful Test To Stay programs including frequent testing of close contacts after exposure – repeated at least twice during a seven-day period post-exposure. USED has partnered with the CDC and the Rockefeller Foundation to help districts accelerate school-based testing for students and staff. As part of this effort, the Rockefeller Foundation published a testing how-to start-up guide for schools and the CDC launched a directory and website to make it easy for schools to identify testing providers within their state.

3.?Collaborate with Local Health Departments

Vaccination rates and community spread vary across states and impact decisions at a local level. Collaborating with local health departments is crucial in ensuring a coordinated and supported response to COVID in your school. At the foundation of this relationship should be meaningful, regular and consistent interactions with your local, county and state health departments so that schools are best equipped to respond to new data, pivot in response to evolving information and reassess any changed policies as needed.

4.?Monitor Community Spread

The CDC has stated that although outbreaks in schools can occur, multiple studies have shown that transmission within school settings is typically lower than—or at least similar to—levels of community transmission, when prevention strategies are in place in schools. Implementing mitigation strategies at all levels of community transmission is important to keep in-school transmission low. When there are higher levels of community transmission, it is particularly important to strengthen strategies like screening testing to identify cases early.

USED Announces Joint Temporary Action with U.S. Department of Transportation to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage

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USED Announces Joint Temporary Action with U.S. Department of Transportation to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a collaborative effort with the U.S. Department of Education to address the school bus driver shortage. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency within US DOT responsible for regulating the trucking industry, is giving states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test that requires applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components. All other components of the written and road test will remain.?Drivers receiving a CDL under this temporary waiver are permitted to operate intrastate school buses only; they are not authorized to operate trucks, motorcoaches, or any other type of commercial motor vehicle requiring a CDL.??

The FMCSA waiver, which became effective Jan. 3, 2022, expires March 31, 2022. USED and US DOT hope this will alleviate?some of the labor shortage challenges schools are facing to safely keep schools open for full-time, in-person learning.?

In case you missed it, AASA led a letter with 12 other national organizations in November 2021 to US DOT identifying a handful of policy changes that could help address the bus driver shortage. While this change was not one of our asks, it does represent a low-hanging fruit provision, that in coordination with longer-lasting and more substantive relief is a good first step towards providing relief. In late November, US DOT also provided flexibility to allow 3rd parties to administer both the skills and knowledge portions of the CDL, in response to our letter. Together, these are two clear indicators that US DOT is committed to supporting schools.

District Court Judge Blocks Head Start Vaccine Mandate in 24 States

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Federal District Court Judge Blocks Head Start Vaccine Mandate in 24 States

On Saturday, January 1, a federal district court blocked the Biden administration’s mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in all Head Start programs. The preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty of Monroe, Louisiana, in a challenge brought by 24 states, also blocks the mandate’s requirement that Head Start students age 2 or older wear masks while indoors or in close contact with others.

The injunction only applies to the 24 states involved in the case: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming and West Virginia.

It is unclear at this time whether the Biden Administration will appeal this decision. We will continue to update this post with any developments.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two cases on January 7 regarding the Biden Administration’s efforts to increase vaccinations, including OSHA’s temporary rule requiring private employers with 100 or more workers to implement a vaccine mandate. The OSHA case may reveal how Supreme Court justices think about federal vaccine efforts, which may affect the Head Start mandates.?

USDA Distributes $1.5 Billion to Strengthen School Meal Programs Amidst Supply Chain Disruptions

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USDA Distributes $1.5 Billion to Strengthen School Meal Programs Amidst Supply Chain Disruptions

On December 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it is providing up to $1.5 billion to states and school districts to help school meal operators deal with the challenges of supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic.

The funding will be made available through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation and funneled through the states for different purposes:

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  • $1 billion in Supply Chain Assistance Funds for schools to purchase food for their programs
  • $300 million in USDA Food Purchases for states to distribute to schools
  • $200 million through the new Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program that will be used for cooperative agreements to purchase local foods for schools.

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Find a state by state breakdown of funds here.

Supply Chain Assistance Funds—The $1 billion in Supply Chain Assistance Funds will go to states for cash payments to school districts to use to purchase food for their school meal programs. Supply Chain Assistance funding can be used by school districts to purchase unprocessed and minimally processed domestic food such as fresh fruit, milk, cheese, frozen vegetables and ground meat. Each state will allocate the funds to schools based on student enrollment, with a minimum amount per district to ensure that small schools aren’t left behind.

To strengthen local food supply chains, states have the option of using up to 10% of the Supply Chain Assistance funds to make bulk purchases of local food and then distributing these foods to schools for use in their meal programs. States also have the option of targeting the funds to areas of highest need by limiting distribution to school districts where a quarter or more of students are from low-income households.

USDA Foods Purchases—USDA will purchase about $300 million in 100% domestically grown and produced food products, known as USDA Foods, for states to distribute to schools to offset the impact of disruptions to their normal supply chains. Conducting market research and working with USDA’s qualified small to large vendors, USDA has identified a large list of available products. States will be able to order these additional foods within the coming weeks, with deliveries to occur as soon as possible.

Local Foods for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program—USDA will award up to $200 million to states for food assistance purchases of domestic local foods for distribution to schools. This program will strengthen the food system for schools by helping to build a fair, competitive, and resilient local food chain and expanding local and regional markets with an emphasis on purchasing from historically underserved producers and processors.?





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