Coronavirus cases force 6,500 LAUSD students to miss school - Los Angeles Times
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Coronavirus cases lead to missed school days for 6,500 LAUSD students during first week

A boy and his mother walk hand in hand at a school.
The Los Angeles Unified School District released coronavirus testing results for the first week of school. The district is operating the largest such testing program in the nation.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Coronavirus cases resulted in 6,500 students missing one or more days during the first week of school in the Los Angeles Unified School District as officials responded to early results from the largest school-based coronavirus testing effort in the nation.

About 3,000 students were in isolation because they tested positive for an infection either during the first week or in the days before the Aug. 16 start of classes. An additional 3,500 were in quarantine after they were identified as close contacts of those who tested positive.

About 451,000 preschool through 12th-grade students are attending Los Angeles public schools in person this fall. More than 10,000 others are attending classes online through an independent study option.

Among some 60,000 employees tested, about 1,000 missed at least one day of work because of an infection or because they were in close contact with an infected person.

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L.A. Unified officials say they know of no cases that were transmitted from one person to another while on a campus since the start of school, although some parents have questioned that claim. As of Tuesday, the Los Angeles County health department did not have any L.A. Unified campus on its list of schools with potential outbreaks.

The district released the data in response to a request from The Times and as part of a presentation Tuesday to the Board of Education.

During the presentation, senior administrators acknowledged serious issues that the district is trying to resolve.

Both parents and principals have reported lagging test results that led to children and staff with infections returning to campuses, putting others at potential risk. The district aims to have tests processed overnight, but “on time” per the district could still mean 48 hours from the time of the test, which could stretch over three days for a test taken in the afternoon.

Officials have emphasized that the coronavirus tests represent just one layer of protection and that other safety measures — including mandatory masks indoors and outdoors, improved air filters and hand-washing — should still provide strong protection even when a test result does not return overnight.

Other parents have had issues with getting their children back on campus as soon as they are eligible because of difficulty scheduling test appointments or reaching the district community engagement team, which must approve a return to campus.

Some phone messages to the main district line went to spam folders, Chief of Schools David Baca said.

He also acknowledged issues with the online study option. A week after the original July 30 enrollment deadline, applications continued to pour in, doubling to more than 10,000 students.

“Some students ... are not seeing live daily instruction yet,” said Baca, who offered his email address as an initial point of contact for them: david.baca@lausd.net. And 3,000 more students are waiting to be processed in.

“Each day it gets better,” Baca said. “Each week, we’ll get better, and we’ll keep working until we get it right.”

The vast majority of students, about 97%, are back for in-person classes, although some were soon sent home. Overall, about 1 in 70 students had to enter isolation or quarantine.

The district also released numbers on student and staff who tested positive during the first week of school, cases identified as part of the district’s mandatory weekly testing program. Beginning the week of Aug. 16, about 2,000 students and 200 district employees tested positive. The figures were updated Monday and are higher than numbers that were reported in the first iteration of a database created by the outside group Parents Supporting Teachers, which initially used data from Sunday.

During the first week of school, about 6 in 1,000 students and about 4 in 1,000 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. These rates are lower than from “baseline” testing conducted Aug. 2-15 and could indicate a leveling off of the Delta variant in the communities served by L.A. Unified.

Earlier district testing had shown a steady rise in infection rates over the course of the summer, from about 1 in 1,000 students to about 8 in 1,000 students by early to mid-August.

Some campuses dealt with no or few cases, but the effect was concentrated in other areas. Overland Elementary School on the Westside, for example, had six cases and sent home four entire classrooms, according to emails sent to parents.

Overland parent Alexis Rochlin has no beef with either her first-grader’s teacher or principal but feels buffeted by changing and conflicting news from the school about the extent of infections and what would happen next. She also was unable to reach the district’s community engagement team. Her child’s class ended up being sent home. Initially, the teacher planned to keep live instruction going via Zoom, with the principal’s blessing, but the principal later told parents in an email that she had erred in authorizing the online fallback.

Officials, during the school board meeting, clarified that teachers, if they wished, would be allowed to switch to Zoom if an entire class was quarantined or to simulcast for individual students at home.

Board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin said schools were challenged both by quarantines and ongoing staff vacancies at the 183 schools in her district, which runs from South L.A. to the Harbor area.

“We have more requests for subs than can be filled — 542 yesterday, 481 Friday — so teachers are asked to cover during their conference periods and even administrators are covering classes,” Franklin wrote in an email. “It’s really hard, and school staff are doing the best they can.”

A person is supposed to be in “isolation” at home if experiencing symptoms of illness or after testing positive. A person quarantines at home after close contact with someone who tested positive.

L.A. Unified revised its rules Monday to enable more students to avoid quarantine. Administrators had been sending home all close contacts of an infected person. Under the new policy, vaccinated students who are close contacts do not have to quarantine unless they develop symptoms, although district officials on Tuesday said people still need to be tested five days after exposure. The district’s new policy aligns with that of L.A. County.

“I’m glad to see this districtwide update that differentiates procedures for vaccinated versus unvaccinated members of our school communities,” said school board member Nick Melvoin. The district’s policies should “follow the science and align with public health guidance.”

A close contact is any person who was within six feet of a person with a coronavirus infection for at least 15 minutes within a 24-hour period.

The stay-home rules affected many people even if they tested positive before the start of school. That’s because an isolation period, for example, extends for at least 10 days.

Officials also released attendance rates for the first week of school. On the first day, about 84% of those expected were in class for the in-person program. That figure is lower than normal, but it could have been worse: About 1 in 5 students had not taken a required coronavirus test in advance. The district managed to get many of those students quickly tested and into their classes on the same day.

The attendance rate gradually rose through the week to a high of about 88% on Thursday before dipping Friday.


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