Months of hard work and organizing by Texas AFT members in Judson ISD culminated in January with the long-awaited arrival of improved COVID-19 testing.
Over the past few months, Associate Membership Program (AMP) members reiterated that the district’s COVID-19 plan wasn’t going far enough to keep students and staff safe. Staff organized a car caravan and other actions in protest. At times, members felt like they weren’t getting traction, but their sustained efforts finally persuaded district leadership they needed to do more to keep campuses safer with enhanced testing.
This win isn’t just the result of one campaign; it’s the product of a long-term working relationship between the district and AFT members on COVID-19 issues — a relationship marked by persistent activism from members.
Activists within Judson ISD led the charge in researching ways to bring improved testing to the district. They discovered the San Antonio-based nonprofit Community Labs, an organization working to create COVID-19 Safety Zones and a pathway for schools to reopen, people to return to work, and communities to recover. To achieve its mission, Community Labs works with a local specialized lab that provides 24-hour COVID-19 test results and a less invasive testing experience by swabbing the front of the nostril — the same accelerated pandemic suppression system used by Harvard and MIT scientists.
With grant funding and the assistance of Superintendent Dr. Jeanette Ball, two weeks ago Judson ISD began working with Community Labs to conduct ongoing COVID-19 testing with an indefinite end date. Together, they are working to test all students, educators, and staff on a weekly basis.
In the first week of testing, Judson ISD tested 2,650 staff and students, 33 of which were positive but asymptomatic. In the last week alone, 3,022 staff and students were tested with an additional 22 positive asymptomatic cases. Testing is free and available to anyone who wants to participate, but it is not mandatory. All students must get parental permission to be tested.
The testing is done in close partnership with school nurses in Judson ISD. Nurses are handling the logistics, while Community Labs conducts the physical testing. Beyond the process of testing itself, Community Labs also trains nurses in case someone gets sick with COVID-19.
Yvette Huizar, the only school nurse for Judson High School, had positive things to say about the new testing procedures.
“This is the best thing that could have happened. Initially, we started conducting another type of COVID rapid testing, but it wasn’t very user-friendly,” Huizar said. “It was also only 50% accurate. That testing took place on Fridays, which then meant that on the weekends, someone had to be responsible for who was positive and doing contact tracing before Monday.”
Huizar said the testing now takes place on Thursdays, and Community Labs only tests asymptomatic students and staff, so they’re able to detect people on campus who don’t have symptoms but are carriers. Those with symptoms stay home.
“The only drawback to this process is that nurses now have to manage all the paperwork for each individual before the organization shows up to administer the testing,” Huizar said.” That takes a lot of time, and, as we have more students showing up for face-to-face learning, that will become an issue, as I also have to take care of other emergencies on campus and meet the needs of other students.”
Without the efforts of AMP members and organizers like Elena Herrera-Gonzalez, Judson ISD wouldn’t have known about this potential partnership and would be in a very different position today in its efforts towards testing in schools.
At the time of this writing, the district also confirmed it had received its first 100 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. While that number is small, it is certainly progress.