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GICSD distributes free test kits

A volunteer delivers a COVID-19 test kit at a drive-up distribution on New Year's Day.

The new year in the Grand Island Central School District began with a team of administrators, students, and other volunteers distributing COVID-19 test kits in the rain and cold.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Graham reported that Gov. Kathy Hochul met with superintendents last week to ask for their support in her testing initiative to give families access to free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests. The state provided the kits to Erie 1 BOCES, which notified districts of their availability on New Year's Day.

Graham said, "This is the governor's initiative to get tests in the hands of families, particularly during the Christmas vacation, so that families can have the opportunity to test their children before school begins. For our situation, we're handing out test kits, Saturday night, from six to eight, Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. And then other families can pick up test kits for their child's school on Monday."

The tests arrived on New Year's Day, Graham said, adding that "Dave Khreis, one of our amazing buildings and grounds workers, went and picked these up from Erie 1 BOCES at around three o'clock."

A group assembled at the Buildings and Grounds Department office behind Sidway Elementary School Saturday -- a cold and icy New Year's night -- and for two hours to meet a steady stream of drive-up traffic.

"On short notice, we sent an RSVP form out to all families, and the response was significant. We heard from over 800 interested families," Graham said. He added that the district received 2,806 test kits, one for each student in the school system, and estimated that the district distributed 1,000 tests on New Year's Day alone thanks to the help of student volunteers.

The following morning, another pick-up chance was offered from 8 to 10 a.m., also at the Building and Grounds office, where another 500 kits were distributed. Graham said Khreis delivered a case of leftover kits to the district school buildings so that parents could pick some up from the schools. He said 172 families have expressed interest in picking up their test kits at school.

Graham said the state provided enough kits for all the children in the district. Testing is not a requirement or mandate of any kind. "It's just something if families have the desire to do so," Graham said. Also, the test kits are separate from the district's Test-to-Stay pilot program ongoing in the district, which resumed Monday.

Graham praised the district team "who all helped plan, prepare and/or distribute rapid antigen tests to families." He mentioned a trio from the Buildings and Grounds Department: Director of Facilities Jim Rozler, Khreis and Tom McMahon; building administrators Max Pikula, Hillary Kretz-Harvey, and Felicia Pallaci; Grand Island High School students, and other volunteers.

"It is my understanding that some parents used the tests immediately this weekend and identified some positive cases. This resulted in those individuals staying home and keeping others safe in the process," Graham reported on Jan. 3.