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Duke School Community Surveillance Study

Dear Duke School Families,

We are fortunate to have the guidance from internationally renowned infectious disease and COVID-19 response experts volunteering to serve the school as our Clinical Analyst Group. Not only have they helped us set up a minimal risk environment and generously responded readily to every question we have, they also have authored on behalf of Duke School a policies guide that has been requested for review by four North Carolina state superintendents as schools seek guidance for ways to reopen.

We have exciting news to share this week. Members of our Clinical Analyst Group, through their close relationship with Duke School, have invited us to participate in a study funded through Duke University to assess the feasibility of a non-invasive, low cost method of surveillance for COVID-19 using environmental swabs of the classroom. Environmental swabs of classrooms will be paired with self-collection of saliva from students and teachers. The Duke Health Institutional Review Board (IRB) assures that this research is safe, will protect anonymity of voluntary participants, and does not expose our community to any increased risk related to COVID-19.

  • All students and faculty will be offered the opportunity to participate and will have the option to opt-out

  • Pods will be randomly chosen for participation, and pods with 100% participation will be prioritized 

  • Participants will be asked to provide a saliva sample twice weekly, which will be self-collected at home prior to school and collected during carline drop-off

  • All samples and research data will be de-identified, so the research team will not know to whom the samples or results belong

Why should Duke School participate?

The results of this study may contribute to the development of safer and more feasible and tolerable surveillance methods to help schools open—protecting education and development while also minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. This study offers a unique opportunity to give back to the larger community. 

What does the study entail on campus?

Environmental sample collection after school: This is a non-invasive study. Approximately 10-20 pods per week will be identified to participate. Environmental samples using the equivalent of Q-tip swabs will be collected from high touch areas within select classroom pods (door handles, desks, chairs, student crates, bathrooms). Samples will be collected twice weekly after students depart and before the pod is cleaned. There will not be any increased risk since the surfaces that will be sampled are areas within which our students, staff, and faculty are already interacting. Teachers in selected pods will have no responsibilities related to monitoring the sampling process.

Your family has the opportunity to participate.

Voluntary participation through collection of saliva samples outside of school: This study includes an non-invasive opportunity for voluntary participation by students. If your child’s pod is selected for environmental sampling, your child will be invited to provide saliva samples at home twice weekly on the same days that the environmental sampling occurs. You will be given a sterile collection vial in advance to permit self-collection in the privacy of your home. You will seal and drop your child’s saliva sample in a container in the carline.


Anonymity will be protected, but we may benefit through early detection: All participants will be assigned a random study ID number. Only parents of participants and the Duke School Leadership Team will know who is participating in the study; the research team will be blinded to participants identifiers. If there is a positive environmental sample, the research team will also test the pooled saliva samples from the pod. If there is a positive saliva sample, the researchers will share the ID number with us. We then will have the opportunity to alert a family to seek clinical testing to confirm the result. In this manner, Duke School potentially benefits from an extra layer of screening beyond the daily temperature and symptom checks that we ask of all families.

Surveillance Study Information Session for all school community members—Monday, November 2, 6 PM

The Clinical Analyst Group (CAG) of Duke School will offer a Zoom informational session next week to offer details, process, and benefits of the study as well as respond to questions you may have about this study. Please RSVP here to let us know you will join the meeting. You may also include a question with your RSVP. Following the CAG Information Session, a letter from the research team, approved by the Duke Health Institutional Review Board, will be sent to you via email with more detailed information and to allow for the option to opt-out of the study.  

Authentic opportunity for project work for eighth grade students

Since three of the Surveillance Project researchers are current or former Duke School parents, they approached the Leadership Team with a very special opportunity to engage our eighth graders as “junior researchers” in the study. In collaboration with the research team, science and project teacher Cara, Jenny, and Kathy are developing a project in which students may participate in many ways, such as interviewing Duke University researchers, meeting with guest experts, zooming into the Duke lab, analyzing data, and even participating in a training session with researchers in order to help conduct environmental sampling. 


This provides the agency we seek to foster in students, offering a chance to contribute in meaningful ways, learning alongside Duke University researchers on a study that might help schools around the world. 

We are especially grateful to Dr. Susanna Naggie, Dr. Micky Cohen-Wolkowicz, and alumni parent Dr. Chris Woods who introduced us to this opportunity, along with the full support of the other members of the CAG (Dr. Sarah Lewis, Dr. Ethan Basch, and Dr. Bimal Shah) and COVID-19 Task Force. This project directly aligns with the Duke School philosophy to inspire learners to boldly and creatively reshape their future, and we look forward to partnering with Duke University on this very important project.

Warm regards,

Lisa Nagel, Head of School

Kathy Bartelmay, Director of Curriculum and Professional Development, Project Liaison

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