LA GRANGE, Ill. (CBS) — One suburban school district is doubling its COVID-19 testing in the weeks after the holiday season. Dozens of other districts are interested in following its lead.
The model at Park Junior High in La Grange may soon be turning a profit.
Elementary students take their saliva tests at home. Junior high students take theirs in the hallway or outside. The district calls it a success. The kids call it a little strange. But one local doctor calls it a unique business opportunity.
Part school superintendent and part nurse, the top administrator in La Grange District 102 can be found twice a week in this post-holiday cycle administering the COVID saliva tests.
“We’ve been able to stay in school with a hybrid program since August 27,” said Superintendent Kyle Schumacher.
“Every Monday, gotta do a spit test,” said Park Junior High School student Ginny D’Alessio.
Results come within 24 hours and confidence follows soon after.
“It makes me feel more comfortable being in school,” D’Alessio said. “Not that much stress that you could get sick.”
Of the students and staff, 82% are taking part. Testing will last at least through spring break, costing the district $11 per test. When the district rolled out the model in the fall, other districts came calling.
Loyola virologist Dr. Edward Campbell, who also sits on the La Grange Board of Education, devised the program. After it went online in September other school districts came asking about it.
“‘We heard you are doing something that is helping keeping school safe. What can you tell me about it and can we do it?’” Campbell quoted.
After getting the La Grange District 102 program off the ground — he developed a business model around it.
“I would call it hockey stick growth.”
The LaGrange district is not a client. There program was devised before he incorporated and is unrelated to his business.
But thirty other schools and school districts have become clients, and more are calling every day.
Similar to the University of Illinois testing this summer, he built and paid for PCR machines to run the tests out of a school district science facility.
“There’s a pretty large financial startup for a company like this,” Campbell said. “In the hundreds of thousands of dollars range, and it does take a little bit of time to recoup that money. I’ll be happy as long as we don’t get burned.”
He said as long as his client districts test all semester he will turn a profit.
It’s turning the conventional business model taught in classrooms completely upside down.
“I have a really weird business model,” he said. “I really want to go out of business in June.”
The superintendent said the success is largely a result of a district where people are hugely supportive of finding inventive ways to keep kids in school, and it does not hurt having a virologist on the board of education in the middle of a pandemic.
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