Time running out for Minnesota schools to apply for money to help with COVID testing

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Time is running out for schools to apply for federal funding to help slow down the spread of COVID-19.

To give districts more time to apply, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) extended the deadline to apply for money to help with COVID-19 testing.

Districts have until Oct. 15 to apply to be part of MDE’s COVID-19 School Testing Program.

When MDE announced it was going to extend the deadline, 44% of schools had applied to be part of the program that will help schools get tests, protective equipment needed to administer tests, even help with staffing surrounding testing – less than a week later, nearly 54% of schools have applied.

Health officials have blamed the delta variant and lack of mitigations measures for a spike in cases recently – schools have been part of the increase in cases.

In an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Sept. 27, director of infectious disease for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Kris Ehresmann, expressed frustrations surrounding the lack of schools utilizing tools to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

"We’re in a place where we could be learning in a much safer environment, it’s just that in many places, the tools that we have are not being accessed," Ehresmann said.

She also mentioned that as more cases pop up in schools, more districts are reaching out to access the guidance and tools available.

Dr. Tony Kinkel, executive director of the Minnesota Board of School Administrators (BOSA), shares similar frustrations as MDH. He has a good gauge on how districts operate as the BOSA oversees school administrators.

"First, there are a number of superintendents that still don’t know about the program," Kinkel said about the testing program.

Kinkel feels a big reason for that is because of what he called "COVID fatigue."

"[Administrators are] wore out and ready to move on," Kinkel added. "When they get these emails about this new grant program and this new grant program, they’re like, ‘I don’t want to touch that stuff anymore.’"

Another reason for districts not taking advantage of the federal funds, Kinkel said, is because it’s now up to individual school boards to make decisions on how schools operate in the pandemic.

"A number of school boards, in greater Minnesota particularly, are very skittish about any kind of activity that brings more attention to the COVID virus, that they’ve moved on," Kinkel added.

One of the school districts that’s part of the 54% that have applied for the grant money is St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS).

While it’s been offering testing from the beginning of the year, a representative says school leaders are meeting weekly to address the safest ways to operate.

According to the MDE, SPPS will be receiving $1,935,211.57.

"It’s clear that funding will definitely help us," Kevin Burns, director of the office of communications for SPPS, said.

"What we want to make sure is whatever we do, it’s sustainable, it’s equitable and it meets the needs particularly in areas, and [for] those in the community who don’t have access to something that’s already in place," Burns added about the funding.

Starting Oct. 15 – also the last day to apply for the federal grant money to help with testing – SPPS and Minneapolis Public Schools will require staff to have weekly COVID-19 tests or show proof of vaccination.