First published in the Sept. 16 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
Planning a return to the classroom for in-person instruction in the era of COVID-19 was a daunting task for schools throughout the state during the summer, especially amid the rapid rise of the Delta variant this past month which complicated the matter.
Such concerns prompted Los Angeles and Culver City school districts to implement vaccine mandates that require students 12 and older to be inoculated. L.A. County health officials stated that children under 18 comprised about 27% of positive coronavirus cases from Sept. 2-9.
That’s not the case, however, for the La Cañada Unified School District, which has only reported 13 positive cases among students and eight among employees as of Sept. 14. There are a total of 4,570 students in the LCUSD and only 194 students listed as opting out of testing.
“I think everything is going well,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette told the Outlook Valley Sun on Wednesday. “We’ve been able to lean in and learn over the last four weeks of school and make some adjustments. We’re seeing good results.”
Sinnette added that there has not been any transmission of the virus on La Cañada Flintridge campuses and that COVID-19 cases have gone down since the beginning of the school year, a similar trend seen throughout the entire state. California recently became the only large state in the country to move out of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s red tier — indicating high transmission rate — to the orange tier, which indicates substantial risk.
Being a small district has allowed LCF to be nimble in what has been a fluid 18 months during the pandemic, and last year’s limited in-person experience helped LCUSD better prepare.
Students in grades 7-12 have assigned seating for each period and desks are separated as much as possible for social distancing. Should a student test positive, they and those who are unvaccinated seated within 6 feet of the infected person must quarantine. Students who miss school due to infection or exposure can receive lessons via Google Classroom and are checked on by substitute teachers via Zoom.
The elementary schools have students assigned to class cohorts, and should there be a positive test among the group, the entire class must quarantine. Classes that must stay home for days due to a positive test pivot to virtual instruction provided by their daily teacher.
As of Tuesday, Palm Crest Elementary has had five positive tests (but only one in the past two weeks), Paradise Canyon Elementary has had three and La Cañada Elementary hasn’t had any cases.
According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, there have been only five LCHS students who tested positive and 82.8% of students in grades 7-12 are vaccinated. L.A. County officials reported last week that only 54% of residents 12-17 are fully inoculated.
The Governing Board has discussed the possibility of requiring students 12 and older to get vaccinated but did not go as far as LAUSD to make a decision on the matter.
“I applaud LAUSD, the Culver City school district and all the other school districts that are looking at adding this additional layer of protection that you get with vaccinations for those that are 12 and older,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, told reporters in a virtual conference last week. “And we’re working closely with all the school districts to make sure that we’re creating as much safety as possible.”
The LCUSD Governing Board approved some changes to the district’s coronavirus protocols recommended by district staff during the Aug. 30 meeting, and Sinnette said she may recommend some minor tweaks when they meet again later this month.
“We’ve been really successful with taking an iterative approach and leaning in, establishing protocols, gathering data and adjusting as necessary. We will continue to do that,” Sinnette said. “L.A. County has been gathering its data and making their recommendations and we will assess whether or not we should make any.”