The incoming superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District visited with administrators, staff and students at an Elysian Heights elementary school campus today, saying there is no end in sight to the difficulties Covid-19 will present for the district and students.
“I’m one who believes in science, and we recognize that probably Covid-19 is here to stay,” said Carvalho during his campus visit.
LAUSD officials mandated Covid testing for all students and staff before they were permitted to return to campuses this week. According to figures released by the district Thursday, 13.3% of district employees have tested positive for the virus ahead of the start of classes, and 15.6% of students.
District officials have touted that those rates are lower than the county at large, where the current positivity rate is about 20%.
Unfortunately, the vehicle by which students were to provide their test results, the Daily Pass app, crashed on the first day of school Tuesday, meaning school staff had to try and determine who was positive in other ways.
Preliminary attendance figures from the first week back at school show a 33% absentee rate among students, according to the district. While Culver City and some other smaller districts have gone back to remote learning for limited periods, there is no provision for at-home instruction for those of the LAUSD’s 600,000 students who don’t wish to return to campus. Unless they can provide a positive test or are presenting symptoms after a close contact, kids must return in person to receive instruction. Given that 15% of students tested positive and 33% stayed home, there is likely a large cohort that received no instruction at all this week.
The district had at one time also planned to mandate vaccination for all students, but last month it delayed that requirement until fall. L.A. County figures show that just 18% of children 5-11 years old are fully vaccinated. That trails the statewide rate of about 21%, according to state and CDC data.
By contrast, the rate for kids 12-17 being fully vaccinated in L.A. County is 73%.
Carvalho, who has been the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools since 2008, said he supports the measures implemented by the district thus far to cope with the pandemic, but acknowledges there is more work to be done to ensure students don’t fall farther behind.
“We recognize that students were already in a fragile condition,” he said, before observing that the district will have to be “nimble” in responding to the ever-changing conditions presented by the pandemic.
California this week loosened its guidelines for notifications of close contacts and testing.
Instead of painstaking contact tracing and notification during the current surge, state health officials recommend notification be done by groups of exposed students (e.g. classmates, teammates, cohorts, etc.) rather than taking the time to identify individual close contacts.
State officials have also given the ok for “pooled PCR tests” — in which several students’ samples are tested together — as acceptable for evaluation of an individual’s status. Samples would only be individually tested if the pooled test is positive. Pooled testing is used to conserve test kits.
The virus has also led to staffing issues, most notably among bus drivers. According to the district, 361 bus routes this week had to be covered by supervisors, trainers and other drivers.
About 2,000 teaching slots were covered by certified substitutes, according to the district.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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