South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Brooke Baitinger | August 24, 2021
Angry parents flocked to a Broward County School Board meeting Tuesday to protest coronavirus testing proposed in three buildings.
The parents cited concerns — circulated on social media — about a chemical used in sterilizing medical devices, including nasal swabs used for testing.
School board members cut off the microphones when parents shared misinformation or strayed from the topic of testing.
One furious mother, Deidre Ruth, showed up with her son in tow. School Board members asked why he was not in school and if he was quarantined. Ruth instantly grew hysterical, refusing to answer the question about her child because she said it was none of their business.
“You’re disgusting!” she bellowed as she was escorted out of the meeting, adding that her child has a right to get an education in school and hasn’t been exposed to COVID-19.
The testing is intended to help minimize the strain of students staying home after possible exposure to the coronavirus. Educators are concerned that quarantines will leave children at home, with no live instruction, since remote learning has officially ended.
Only students with symptoms would be tested with their parent’s consent, the district says.
Catherine Uden, a former Broward County teacher and the parent of a middle school student, said she liked the idea.
“I feel there should be rapid tests available for kids who are showing symptoms,” she wrote in an email. “This would be helpful to parents, and it would also help protect staff and other students.”
Coronavirus testing also occurs in Palm Beach County schools. The Health Care District in Palm Beach County, which employs school nurses, does rapid testing at all schools for students with symptoms, a spokeswoman said.
Staff in Broward coordinated with the Department of Health to secure three sites for district employees to expedite testing as needed, School Board member Patricia Good said in an email. Information about the three sites will be available by the end of the week, she added.
“The opportunity for testing at our school sites with parental consent would provide immediate feedback to both the families and the school,” she wrote. “This may potentially alleviate the need for parents to take time off work and assist us in keeping all students safe by quickly identifying if a child is ill or not.”
There also was discussion of testing students on sports teams, school bands, debate teams and drama club.
Board members approved the proposal for testing students and will explore additional testing options for employees.
Testing in schools should help to mitigate the virus’s spread by identifying positive cases sooner, the school district said. It also should help reduce the stress on students and parents so they spend less time out of school and aren’t needlessly quarantined.
“Bottom line: Students should not attend school sick,” the district wrote in an email. “Conversely, they should not have to stay home on quarantine, if not needed.”
Despite some parents’ complaints, board members compared the sterilizing compound, called ethylene oxide, to sterilizing a fork with bleach but not being poisoned from using the fork to eat. They explained that the swabs are sterilized with ethylene oxide in a gas state and said the hysteria over the chemical was spread on Instagram and TikTok.
In an 80-second video clip, shared by hundreds of social media users, an unidentified man claims the swabs are sterilized with the main ingredient in antifreeze, a carcinogen he says will cause cancer and is killing people. The claims are not true and appear to be a repeat of misinformation previously spread on social media.
Ethylene oxide has been associated with cancers, but that doesn’t mean that swabs sterilized with it will cause cancer, board members explained.
In fact, 50% of medical devices in the U.S. are sterilized with the same chemical, board members said.
The Broward protests followed protests about masks Monday in Palm Beach County schools, where parents plan to protest again Wednesday.
Palm Beach County schools reported that 1,556 students have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and 4,384 were told to stay home from school because they may have been exposed. Of 1,775 confirmed cases, 219 were employees.
Broward County reported 84 students and 68 employees with positive COVID tests as of Tuesday.