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  • Writer's pictureLHS-BoV

La Follette High School uses QR codes to aid in contract tracing as students return

Scott Girard | The Capital Times

Much of a high school student’s day is scheduled, as they move between classrooms for hourlong periods.

As Madison high schoolers return to buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic, their movements are important knowledge for potential contact tracers if and when a positive case is identified. Using seating charts and attendance records, those in charge of tracing can quickly share information with families and staff.

But what about the times when a student visits a guidance counselor for help with a college application or gets some one-on-one academic help outside of class time? At La Follette High School, the administration is using technology to track staff and students’ whereabouts, using QR codes in and outside rooms that students and others may visit on an unscheduled basis to receive extra support, pay an athletic fee or see a counselor.

“We don’t want to stop students getting support from their counselor, we don’t want to stop a kid coming up to one of our offices to get a bus pass,” assistant principal Cullen Haskins said. “What we want to do is we want to track them, so if we are in a situation where we have to contact trace, we know about these spaces.”

Students scan the machine-readable code of black and white squares into an app and fill out a two-question survey with their name and student ID. The information is collected in a spreadsheet that Haskins can review quickly when necessary.

It’s important information because many of these activities are the type that would require contact tracing — two or more people in a smaller space that doesn’t allow for physical distancing, often for an extended period of time. Haskins cited three students who got help with college applications last week for about an hour each.

“If we ever had a case, we could look back and say we better call you and make sure you weren’t there for 15 minutes,” he said.

As of April 26, there had been 178 positive cases among students and staff present in district buildings since the beginning of the school year, requiring 991 people to quarantine, according to the district’s public case count page. Of those, 16 and 99, respectively, had come within the past two weeks.

One concern when the idea was suggested was students’ access to phones, but Haskins said the district-provided Chromebooks have a QR scanner they can use. If they don’t have that, staff can also use their own devices to scan the code and enter the student’s information.

Haskins said the procedure has also allowed them to be creative with spaces. For example, finding space for staff who shared offices was an important consideration, especially those that meet with students.

“Because we didn’t have students and staff browsing in the stacks, the library then was transformed to a place where you kind of had, we call it hotel office space,” Haskins said, noting that each table has its own code for students and staff to scan.

Long-term, it could eliminate the traditional clipboard and paper sign-in systems in place, which often collect the same information but require pages of paper daily and are harder to access. The QR codes can also provide information for who is seeking what kind of help, which can inform outreach or other supports, Haskins said.

“We’ve been forced to do things that’ll end up being good for our school systems,” he said. “Getting rid of a clipboard sign-in sheet in your shared spaces is probably a long time coming. I’m glad that we are able to be pushed, for safety reasons really, to be able to do this.”

Haskins said it’s been “exciting” to see an attempt to use technology go smoothly, with the system beginning as ninth- and 12th-graders returned last week, though it has not been used to trace a positive case yet. He suggested schools need to “do more of that" with potential technology tools.

“Without the pandemic, you don’t try new things as fast,” he said. “Maybe it’s a lesson for other things we could do to help our schools transform.”

This article was originally published by The Capital Times on April 27, 2021. To view the full story on their website, please click here.

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