Roughly 1 in 5 students is enrolled in BVSD's voluntary Covid-19 testing program. Credit: Anthony Albidrez

In August, the Boulder Valley School District launched a program to test students every two weeks for Covid-19 in an effort to stop outbreaks before they spiral out of control. 

As of Oct. 25, parents had enrolled 6,214 students — about one-fifth of the district’s total population — in the voluntary testing program, according to the district’s chief communications officer. 

Public health experts say regular and frequent testing is one of the few tools available to help protect students from coronavirus, keep schools open and reduce community transmission rates.  

The 20 percent figure is higher than in many Colorado districts. But it’s likely below what’s ideal to reliably catch outbreaks. Fewer than one percent of all the state’s public and private schools are participating in the state’s weekly testing program, according to recent data from the state health department. 

The age group of kids under 12 has had the highest rates of Covid-19 lately, according to data from Boulder County. That’s in part because younger children have been ineligible to be vaccinated.

And since the school year started, K-12 schools have remained the locations with the most cases, according to state data. On Oct. 29, BVSD reported that 91 students from eight elementary schools were quarantining with active Covid-19. 

Only one BVSD school, Boulder Prep Charter High School, is participating in the state’s weekly testing program, Randy Barber, the communications officer for the district, said. Barber said the state’s program offers Binax testing, which he said is only effective for asymptomatic cases. 

BVSD has contracted to have its biweekly testing done by COVIDCheck Colorado, a student testing company that launched in 2020. 

“Our existing testing is more effective,” Barber told the Boulder Reporting Lab in an email. “Additionally, according to estimates, staffing costs would nearly triple to implement the state program.”

The district requires anyone — student or staff — experiencing “major” COVID-19 symptoms for more than one day to either quarantine for 10 days or get a negative test result before coming back to class. Boulder County health officials also require students and faculty to wear masks. 

Vaccines could be available to children as young as five as soon as this week. On Friday, an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration recommend issuing emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The Colorado health department is already allowing parents to sign up their children. 

Covid-19 vaccine mandates for students, such as those in California, are unlikely in Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis generally opposes vaccine mandates. And the state makes it easy for parents to opt out of vaccination requirements. 

Mask requirements, which state health officials have said drive down transmission rates for students, have drawn opposition from some parents locally. Late last month, county election officials approved a petition to recall three members of the BVSD school board. The nine petitioners cited concerns over the effect of masks on their children’s health and ability to learn. They also cited the school board members’ support for vaccines. 

The petitioners have about two more months to obtain the required 15,000 signatures for the recall to go to a vote. Michael Gaeta, the only petitioner who responded to the Boulder Reporting Lab’s requests for comment, declined to provide information on how much money the petitioners have raised and how many signatures they have gathered. 

John Herrick

I report on housing, climate, health and local government for the Boulder Reporting Lab. I previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. I’m interested in stories about people, power and fairness.