Updated February 12, 2021 - 1:10 pm
The Clark County School Board on Thursday approved $3.3 million in contracts for COVID-19 testing and symptom screening for employees, despite concerns from some members of the public about privacy related to those tests.
The board also heard over an hour of recorded public comment from students and parents asking the district to reconsider its decision to cancel fall sports for the 2020-21 school year, and to allow older grades to return to in-person classes.
The district used federal emergency funds for a $2 million contract with Fulgent Genetics for mandatory, random COVID-19 testing for employees and a separate $1.3 million contract with Emocha for symptom screening. The contracts passed in a 4-3 vote as part of the board’s consent agenda, with trustees Linda Cavazos, Danielle Ford and Lisa Guzman opposed.
According to the agreement with Fulgent Genetics, the company will provide “randomized, mandatory COVID-19 testing for approximately ten to 20 percent of all CCSD employees” on a monthly basis, as part of the Clark County School District’s agreements with its employee unions about reopening schools.
But in public comment, some employees raised concerns about how their testing samples would be used by the company, which also provides genetic screening and sequencing.
One employee, Robert Carroll, asked that the agreement with the company be amended to specify that any samples taken from employees would be destroyed after a COVID test and not used for any other purpose.
“Everyone has a right to privacy, including their DNA, and should maintain the right to choose how that is stored, used, or sold in the future,” Carroll wrote.
In a statement Friday, Fulgent Genetics representative Kathryn Francis said all patient records are protected under federal law, and that “no genetic material, nor any patient data, is sold or otherwise used except to provide a COVID-19 diagnosis.”
“The samples we receive for COVID-19 testing are only processed for RNA extraction and RT-PCR for viral RNA detection. No DNA is extracted,” the statement said. “Additionally, samples are discarded immediately after the clinical reports are issued, and are not used for anything other than the viral detection.”
The board also approved three memoranda of agreement with the district’s employee unions, covering additional considerations for employees returning to school buildings, like additional personal protective equipment for special education teachers.
Under an agreement with the Education Support Employees Association, the district will provide one-time stipends of $3,000 to first aid safety assistants who work in campus isolation rooms, where students displaying COVID-19 symptoms will be held. Back-up assistants will receive a $1,000 stipend.
Toward the end of the meeting, Ford requested an item on youth sports to come before the board at the Feb. 25 meeting, citing “hundreds, if not thousands” comments from the public after the 2020 fall sports season was canceled.
Trustee Katie Williams said she believed that the board should defer to Superintendent Jesus Jara on the matter and not allow sports to resume at the present.
The request for an agenda item was voted down in a 3-4 split, with Trustees Ford, Cavazos and Irene Cepeda in support, and Trustees Williams, Guzman, Evelyn Garcia Morales and Lola Brooks opposed.
Closing public comment was again dominated by students and parents asking for schools to reopen to all grade levels, as well as for the district to reconsider its decision to cancel sports and activities.
“It’s not fair for our students to not have a chance to play and earn a scholarship for their education,” one Arbor View High School parent said through tears. “Help these seniors that are lost and are forgotten and feel that nobody cares.”
“It just feels a bit weird that I’ll never see my teachers again. It feels like I have no closure in this part of my life,” a student said. “I’d like to go back and thank my teachers who have helped me along the way.”
Around two hours into the meeting, Williams posted a tweet that said the district had provided vaccines, COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment to teachers, and that “this isn’t about safety, this is about you never being satisfied.”
“Go back to work, or find a new job,” the tweet said, receiving backlash from educators in the replies.
Asked about the tweet, Williams said she was not referencing something that had been said at the meeting but rather a general sentiment that trustees have heard from teachers.
The board will hold its next meeting in-person for the first time in nearly a year, at 5 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts theater.
This story was updated to add a response from Fulgent Genetics to privacy concerns.