The notice was short, but the lines were long. 

On Monday — the day that Seattle Public Schools canceled class to offer three hours of rapid coronavirus testing to staff and students — testing sites were so swamped with families that the district had to turn some people away. 

The district announced five days ago that it would offer tests to students and staff returning from the holiday break, as COVID-19 cases soared in the region.

Seattle Public Schools received 60,000 rapid tests from the state health department to use during the clinics, which were set up at various middle schools around the city. The tests will be available throughout the next week. 

Late Monday, rumors spread that the test sites were closing because the district had run out of tests. “SPS has NOT run out of tests,” district spokesperson Tina Christiansen clarified in an email. “It was about [the time] frame.” 

Seattle school officials said they do not yet know how many children have tested positive, nor did they have information about how many tests were administered Monday. The district also tested more than 2,000 people at testing clinics on Sunday. Tuesday is the first day of school in Seattle Schools for the new year.

Ginny Streeter, a Washington state health department spokesperson, said the agency “received an urgent request” several weeks ago from SPS for antigen tests to perform additional testing when in-person classes resumed after the winter break. Other districts, including Everett and Renton, are expecting to receive additional shipments of rapid tests through the state health department but won’t be conducting a campaign as widespread as Seattle’s. 


More on the COVID-19 pandemic

The tests were provided by Washington’s Learn to Return program, a federally funded initiative that helps schools do free coronavirus diagnostic and screen testing, including rapid antigen, PCR and pooled tests.   

“It’s great that so many people were willing to do it,” Megan Haddock, a Seattle parent whose children were turned away from the Whitman Middle School testing site after less than an hour in line. She plans to take her kids to get rapid tests on Tuesday morning at Adams Elementary School, where the children normally attend. 

To the north in the Shoreline School District, at least one testing site limited the swabs to only students and staff after initially offering to test family members, too. 

Monday’s weather, which turned roads into channels of ice and slush, further complicated the return to classes, as did continued shortages of bus drivers and school building staff. In many areas, school was canceled or start times were delayed.  

There was a slight uptick in the number of staff calling in sick, Auburn School District spokesperson Vicki Alonzo said, but it is unclear whether those calls were made because of the coronavirus or for other reasons. 


Staff shortages there and at many districts in Washington and across the nation have been a concern all year. Some schools temporarily closed this fall in the Seattle area because they did not have enough staff to operate. 

The need for workers was so acute in Everett that Kathy Reeves, the school district’s spokesperson, said she was “pulling recess duty” as a paraeducator, and her other colleagues in the district’s central office were also subbing. Both staff and student absences were higher on Monday than they were before winter break.

It’s unclear whether this was due to the omicron variant or another factor, Reeves said. 

Highline Public Schools also started the new year with staffing shortages, having to fill in the gaps with substitute teachers and certificated central office employees. The district had 136 absences on Monday for certificated staff who needed subs. 

District spokesperson Catherine Carbone Rogers said: “We were able to cover 76 of those. Tomorrow, we anticipate 32 unfilled absences. Staffing shortages continue to be a challenge.”