3 February 2022

School RAT rollout challenging for some parents; will be re-assessed before round two

| Lottie Twyford
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RATs being packed into the back of a car

Over 100,000 rapid antigen test kits have now been distributed to ACT schools, and the process will be repeated in the coming weeks. Photo: ACT Government.

All ACT schools have received their first lot of rapid antigen test kits, but some parents say picking them up has posed logistical challenges which they hope to see resolved.

Many parents have reported they had to leave work during the middle of the day to pick up supplies for their children at allocated times, while others had to queue for hours in traffic after only being provided with a limited timeslot to collect them.

Canberra father Stephen (who does not wish to disclose his last name), has seen both sides of the coin. He has children attending both Arawang Primary School and Mount Stromlo High School.

At the primary school, Stephen said everything went swimmingly. Parents were allocated an hour slot to pick up their children’s kits, and if the time wasn’t suitable because of work or other commitments, parents could collect them in the early evening instead.

Stephen said providing multiple timeslots is important as many parents can’t drop everything to wait in line in the middle of the day.

For Stephen, who could pick up the kits in his allocated hour, it was a quick and easy process.

“It seemed to work really well – there was almost no line-up, so you just drove through, scanned the QR code, got your name checked off a list and then it was done.”

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Not so at Stromlo, which Stephen acknowledged is a much bigger school.

Instead of parents being allocated a range of times, there were only two one-hour timeslots during which RATs could be picked up, one in the middle of the day and one after work.

“It was horrific. Unbelievable. It caused traffic chaos for an hour in the middle of the day, and not just for the people picking up the tests either,” Stephen noted.

Stephen also said he doesn’t think it’s a job for the teachers to come up with a solution, but that schools should instead be provided with some guidance by the Education Directorate about distributing RATs in a timely and safe manner.

“There was a stark contrast between the two schools, which is ironic given they are across the oval from one another,” Stephen mused.

Region Media understands RATs have been given to the eldest child in the family to take home at some Catholic schools, but some public schools say the ACT Government’s official line is that as they are medical devices, they cannot simply be sent home with students, although college students can pick up their own supplies.

Stephen notes there may be an additional challenge as the RATs are supposed to be stored below 30 degrees.

“You probably wouldn’t want them in a schoolbag on a hot summer’s day.”

Opposition spokesperson for education Jeremy Hanson has called for the tests to be sent home with students directly, thereby easing the burden on working families.

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Stephen plans to use both tests next week in a kind of ‘surveillance testing’ program, although exactly when and how tests are used is at the discretion of parents and families in the ACT.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the distribution process of RATs through schools is being closely monitored by the Education Directorate, which will look to implement any feedback from the experience before the next lot of tests are handed out.

“Many schools have done it a little bit differently and it’s been up to the school to figure out what they think will work with their own community,” she said.

“Some people have been very happy with the way that it’s worked in their school while others have raised concerns saying the way it was rolled out in their school wasn’t very convenient.”

All ACT schools have now received the first two weeks of RAT supplies, with over 100,000 kits delivered to students and teachers in Canberra. Currently, the free RATs program is intended to provide two tests per person per week for the first four weeks of term.

The Education Directorate was contacted for comment.

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Many parents are not going to wait in a queue to collect their allocation. The act government is once again mismanaging what should be a simple logistics exercise and the result will once again be waste and extra costs.

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