To Keep Campuses Open, LCUSD Widens Testing for Virus

First published in the Sept. 2 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

At the suggestion of community members and medical experts, the La Cañada Unified School District will update its campus reopening and safety plan and take extra measures to mitigate the possibility of coronavirus transmission on campuses.
The LCUSD Governing Board unanimously approved stricter health protocols recommended by the district staff in a meeting on Monday. Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said the reopening of schools for in-person instruction was “hugely successful but extremely challenging, given the surge of COVID-19 infections as a result of the Delta variant.”
As of Tuesday, seven students in the district — four at Palm Crest Elementary School and three at La Cañada High School — and seven employees had tested positive for the coronavirus so far this academic year.
Board President Kaitzer Puglia said the district has had to “close several classrooms” during the past few days due to positive tests and quarantine protocols, but assured parents that its focus is to maintain a safe environment for employees and students.
“Our focus here in La Cañada and for the Governing Board needs to be and will remain on keeping our schools in La Cañada open in light of the continued COVID-19 surge,” Puglia told stakeholders. “This process is onerous, given the labor-intensive protocols associated with contact tracing, testing, quarantining and all of the resultant health and safety protocols that must be followed.”
The board approved expanding the testing regimen for elementary schools. Unvaccinated staff will now be tested twice a week and daily testing of symptomatic individuals — regardless of vaccination status — will take place, as will daily testing of unvaccinated individuals who have had close contact with people who’ve tested positive. If an unvaccinated close contact does not consent to be tested, then they must quarantine for a full 10 days. The LCUSD will also have all students tested every other week. Young learners will also be required to wear their masks outdoors upon arrival and during dismissal.
The board also expanded testing for grade 7-12 students at LCHS, with the addition of testing for athletes per the terms identified in Los Angeles County’s Youth Sports Protocols and weekly testing for unvaccinated students.
Sinnette said 79.23% of students in grades 7-12 have been inoculated, and she encouraged those holding out to get vaccinated so they don’t miss time from school.
“At the high school, our best line of defense is the vaccine,” she said. “But speaking holistically, if you want your student who is over the age of 12 to have protection not only from the virus but from negative impacts of [county Department of] Public Health-ordered quarantine if they are a close contact, please have them vaccinated. … The way to guarantee
in-person instruction given the current orders of Public Health is to be vaccinated.”
Though a few community members opposed further restrictions for students and teachers, most of the public speakers urged the board to implement more measures to keep students safe.
Board Vice President Dan Jeffries was the most vocal about safety in the classroom and said he favors implementing even stricter measures suggested by local doctors, such as having everyone 16 and older in the district vaccinated, carrying out weekly testing with no opting out, and having students wear their masks outdoors.
“Most of the emails I’ve received are from local doctors, pediatricians that we trust and we take our kids to, doctors [in the emergency room] that we see when we have a crisis,” Jeffries said. “These are experts, they are local, they know our community. Their comments are not political. They’ve giving us the best views that they have from a medical standpoint.”
Sinnette agreed with Jeffries and believes such measures would mitigate learning loss for students.
“I think it’s important to note that this has all been new,” she said. “Our summer planning was consistent, it was full throttle, and we hired an additional district nurse and additional testing staff. We’ve been really prepared, but with the Delta variant emerging on the scene and us realizing that there are breakthrough cases with vaccinated people [and] our students are testing positive, we’ve just had to navigate the landscape with a wider lens. So I would like to see us to get to what Dan said.”
Jessica Mazin, a junior at LCHS, told the board that she supported having students wearing masks outdoors.
“We all feel very safe when the majority of students are wearing masks,” she said. “I do believe that is very important because we all want to stay in person at school. Masks at school are what make us feel safe.”