After 18 months in which it mostly provided virtual instruction — with a stretch of limited on-campus education — the La Cañada Unified School District is ready to return to a traditional, five-day in-person schedule beginning Monday, Aug. 16, with a few notable differences in its health and safety plan.
Meeting in person for only the second time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the LCUSD Governing Board voted 5-0 on Tuesday in favor of adopting the district School Reopening and Safety Plan for the 2021-22 school year that adheres to the recommendations made by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
At the top of the district’s plan are its health protocols, which require all LCUSD employees to provide proof of vaccination or be considered unvaccinated; those who are not inoculated or elect not to disclose proof will be subject to COVID-19 testing twice per week.
Such a mandate is in line with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement on Wednesday that all unvaccinated school employees must submit to weekly testing.
“Not everybody will be overwhelmed by this, but we think it will be well received because it is the right thing to do to keep our most precious resource healthy and safe, our children here in the state,” said Newsom, whose goal is to encourage more residents to get vaccinated. “We’re trying to support the needs of 6.1 million public school kids, and we have been engaged in addressing the concern and anxiety around reopening our schools.”
The LCUSD will also require all volunteers in grades TK-8 and classroom volunteers at the high school to show proof of inoculation in an effort to mitigate risks of infection at school sites, a requirement that did not sit well with board member Joe Radabaugh, who suggested that volunteers receive the same treatment as teachers in being given the option of weekly testing.
“I don’t mind if we want to promote vaccinations,” he said. “It’s a personal choice, but I have a lot of empathy for those who want to make that choice and are still willing to do the necessary steps to keep people safe, such as testing.”
Radabaugh reluctantly agreed to the safety measure as written by district staff but asked that the item be discussed again in the next meeting on Aug. 30.
Parents expressed a similar worry over the protocols in place for students. The LCUSD will require students in grades 7-12 to disclose whether they are vaccinated, and those who are not will undergo weekly testing with parental consent. The district also plans to have random surveillance testing weekly to monitor the possible presence of coronavirus on campus.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette addressed those concerns by informing parents that they can have their kids opt out of weekly and random testing. However, unvaccinated students who are exposed to someone infected with COVID-19 must be tested after a self-quarantine of at least five days and show no signs of symptoms. Sinnette assured that students missing school due to quarantine will receive “high-quality virtual instruction” and that the safety plan is a living document and — much like last year’s plan — can be adjusted accordingly.
One parent voiced opposition to the district’s decision not to allow lockers for high school students, saying having to carry so many books and materials all at once could be demanding physically. The district staff will discuss the issue with administrators and provide an update on all matters in two weeks.
Board member Josh Epstein said he felt it was best to adopt it as is and evaluate the first two weeks of a normal schedule.
“To me, given that we haven’t had a day in school yet this year and that we are in the midst of a surge [in COVID-19 cases], I like being in that position because it gives us flexibility to move in both directions as we see what happens,” Epstein said. “We have not loaded the classrooms to this level in 18 months, so I think there’s value in putting us in a place that is conservative but not overly conservative and gives us the opportunity to adjust on the fly a little bit, like we’ve done so well.”
Keeping a record of all vaccinated employees and students and testing is a daunting task, but one the district is willing to perform to accommodate its stakeholders.
“To be quite frank, it’s going to be a record-keeping nightmare, but we’re committed to it because we’re committed to the health and safety of our kids and we’re also committed to parent choice,” Sinnette said.
LCUSD RESPONDS REGARDING LEAKED VIDEO
A group of parents conveyed its disappointment and concern to the district regarding a private video of a virtual book club meeting involving teachers that was leaked online last weekend.
The video that appeared online showed a group of La Cañada Elementary teachers gathered via Zoom to discuss “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo, a professor who researched whiteness studies and critical discourse analysis, in the wake of the George Floyd murder last year. The meeting, which was saved on a school site-specific shared folder, was leaked onto a video website called Rumble.
Worried parents said the ideas discussed by the teachers aligned with critical race theory — an academic movement that examines the dynamics of how race and racism are expressed throughout institutions, especially law — and goes against the district’s numerous assurances that its diversity, equity and inclusion initiative is not associated with CRT.
Board President Kaitzer Puglia clarified that the meeting was more than a year old and that the teachers met on their own time. She added that the state’s standards for instruction have not changed and LCUSD teachers are going to adhere to them.
The Governing Board could not respond directly to the parents because the issue was not an agenda item, but Sinnette read a lengthy statement regarding the video.
“It’s important to reiterate that the meeting was held over a year ago,” she said. “Since that time, LCUSD has grown and matured in its understanding of its diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, working hard to make progress but also putting the La Cañada stamp on the related actions and services, especially given the highly charged and politicized tenor of the times that are related to these topics.”
The superintendent went on to say that she viewed the “unedited” link of the video and “found it to be a professional conversation on complex and challenging topics held between colleagues who know and trust each other. The conversation was designed to be held in a safe space where professionals grapple with difficult issues and honestly process feeling and ideas in meaningful ways.” She also felt the video was edited in a way that was meant to be “incendiary” and “mischaracterized the discussion.”
Sinnette said the posting of the video was a violation of the teachers’ right of having a safe place for discussion and presented parents with a hypothetical situation.
“Imagine if, without consent from their class, one of your student’s classmates posted a recorded discussion and then random critical comments by members of the student body were publicly displayed,” she said. “Parents of students in that hypothetical class would be outraged. As adults, we need to remember our students are watching what we do.”