District Narrows Contact Tracing to Keep Kids in Class

First published in the Oct. 9 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

After starting out the school year quarantining entire classrooms after a potential COVID-19 exposure, the Glendale Unified School District has recently begun implementing new guidelines to keep more students in the classroom.
The policy change, approved by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, comes after about two months of the district requiring entire classrooms at a time to stay home for up to a 10-day quarantine period. District officials were briefed on the new policy, described as the “phase two quarantine model,” at last week’s Board of Education meeting.
“We have decreased the number of students who have been put into quarantine significantly, whereas before in a seven-period day we were looking at over 150 students — we’re now looking at 30,” said Kelly King, the assistant superintendent of educational services. “In elementary classrooms, we’ve gone from 24 to maybe six.”
In short, the county has modified its definition of what constitutes a “close contact” during contact tracing for COVID-19 cases in schools. After starting the school year with a blanket policy that anyone in a classroom counts, officials are now asking that only those seated within 6 feet of a student or teacher found to have the disease must quarantine. Subjects must have had to have been exposed for more than 15 minutes in the two-day period before their contact began showing disease symptoms or before they took the positive test.
Students who have either been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or can show that they had already contracted the disease within 90 days of the exposure (and, thus, retaining natural immunity to reinfection) do not have to quarantine.
Schools must now maintain seating charts for classrooms, to be used for the contact tracing, and athletic teams and extracurricular clubs must keep student rosters.
“We do think this is something we should reassess on a regular basis, to look at incident rates, to continue to look at spread or transmission rates and to make sure that our classrooms continue to be the safest place for our students and staff,” King said.
The county also has created an option for a “modified quarantine procedure,” which would allow a student under quarantine to attend in-person instruction only provided they and the district meet certain criteria. However, GUSD officials declined to adopt that procedure, for now, on account of the onerous accounting the district would need to adopt.
“We would have to consider a seating chart for lunch,” King explained, as examples. “We’d have to have more tables and more lunch opportunities for students, to be able to spread them out even more so that the principal, in good conscience, could verify the case.”
The district has administered more than 33,000 COVID-19 tests since Aug. 13, which includes optional weekly testing for students, mandatory testing for athletes and teachers, screenings for contact tracing and returns from quarantine. As of the News-Press’ deadline on Friday, there have been 187 students across the district found to have had COVID-19 at school sites, with 15 teachers also detected.
According to L.A. County, 56.6% of 12-17-year-olds in Glendale have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while virtually all in unincorporated La Crescenta-Montrose have gotten the shot. Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine, which currently has emergency use approval for 12-17-year-olds, is expected to obtain a similar approval for those 5-11 years old in the coming weeks.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an order requiring vaccinations for all schoolchildren once the inoculations obtain full formal approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Additionally, GUSD recently adopted a policy to mandate vaccination for teachers and staff, to be enforced by terminations beginning in next month.
School board members were pleased with the county’s relaxed quarantine policies, which ultimately help keep more students in classrooms.
“I’m very pleased with that. I’m, pleased that L.A. County looked at the numbers, looked at what’s happening now that school has been in session for several weeks, and has made this decision to adjust who can actually still be in school,” Nayiri Nahabedian said. “The difference between six students and a class of 24 is a significant difference. The more we can safely have students in the classroom, the better off the students’ learning is.”