While my kindergartner was fumbling with his shoes, I stood at our door, sifting through the mental parenting checklist that had recently settled in my brain: a backpack. Sweatshirt. Snacks. Sunscreen. Water bottle. KN95 mask. Vaccination card.
Jesse asked for a cloth mask, and I explained again that if he put it on, he would also need a surgical mask, which would make it difficult to run during breaks. So I did my best to twist the elastic ear loops on the KN95 to a size that would fit his cherubic face, and we headed for the door.
When we got to the Will Rogers Learning Community, our school in Santa Monica, California, the path to the entrance was divided into two lines by a velvet rope. Children and parents crowded around the rope entrance, studying paper with large print lying on the music stand. It lists classes with COVID cases whose children were required to be tested in order to enroll in school. These children were taken to the right, into the canteen, where the staff helped them put swabs into their tiny noses. The rest of the children went into the building.
It is raising children in Southern California during the omicron, swimming in an ocean of unrest where the currents are constantly changing direction, a clumsy soup of fear, determination, and gratitude for those who do the hard work of keeping schools running.
The confusion is evident in the nation’s second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, where approximately 520,000 children On January 11, children began to return to schools for the first time in three weeks.
“It’s very important that schools stay open,” says Manuel Pastor, a sociologist who runs the USC Equity Research Institute. Indeed, under California law which went into effect in July, Los Angeles cannot transition to remote learning unless there is a severe shortage of staff. But at the same time, schools tightened security measures that were already among the most stringent in the country, raising mask-wearing and testing requirements.
According to Pastor, “push-pull” is very important because physical attendance is vital for children who are already disadvantaged because they speak other languages at home or have parents who can’t or don’t help with lessons. . However, these same children are more likely to pose risks if they bring the virus home because their families are more likely to live in crowded homes, their parents are more likely to be essential workers, and they are more likely to have have unvaccinated siblings or relatives. …
“This is the worst of two possible worlds in terms of distance learning problems and back-to-school problems,” he said.
Before students could return on January 11, they had to undergo baseline testing, either with a home rapid test a few days before class, which can sometimes produce false negative results, or with a PCR test at a hospital. Some 65,000 children tested positive before the school opened; another 85,000 or so were also absent on the first day, in part, perhaps due to parental fear of the virus.
According to many families, testing was the easiest step in returning to school. Students could take free tests at 60 locations. The area already had largest weekly coronavirus testing program in the country, testing every employee and student every week.
However, quarantined children will not have the opportunity to bring their classes closer. Schools did not train their teachers to teach face-to-face and online students at the same time. Officials say with the district’s changed quarantine rules that require only students who test positive or have active symptoms of illness to stay home, those in quarantine should recover anyway and will likely return in a few days.
Even for those who made it to school, the transition hasn’t always been smooth. As schools reopened their doors this morning, the Daily Pass, the app where students upload their test scores, crashed.
So instead of flashing their phones at the school door, the kids lined up. around the school and subjected to a highly unscientific process of testing their contagious status. Some schools have returned to asking students and their parents screening questions.
Interim Superintendent Megan Reilly has apologized for the disruption to the Daily Pass. “I knew there wouldn’t be a day today when we didn’t have bumps in the road,” she said at a press conference.
Meanwhile, administrative staff were brought in to replace about 2,000 teachers (out of 25,000) who were outside with COVID or caring for someone with the virus. On January 12, a student council member replaced a class and was assisted by an LAUSD architect in another class. Jenna Schwartz, parent of LAUSD, co-founder of the group. Parents support teachers, said the county is enlisting thousands of employees to help. It’s not as bad as it sounds, she said.
“There are rumors that bus drivers will teach algebra, but the truth is that there are now a huge number of certified teachers working in the administrative field,” she said. “One of the advantages of bureaucracy is that there are a huge number of people who can replace it.”
district modified quarantine the policy states that if an infection occurs in a classroom, students may remain symptom-free at school, testing on the fifth day after a suspected infection.
But not every school implements these policies, and some schools, like state charters, have leeway to make their own decisions. Paulina Jones’ 6-year-old daughter, a kindergarten student at the Citizens of the World charter school in Hollywood, was sent home with the rest of her students for 10 days after she was exposed to the virus in her first week of school.
That’s why on January 11, Jones was driving to work, to the construction site where she works as a manager, with her daughter in the back seat. Jones fears that this scenario will repeat itself over and over again. “Half the school is now in quarantine,” she said.
Between the long winter break and this quarantine, her daughter only had one private school day per month. According to Jones, the Zoom instruction just doesn’t work for this age group.
“It’s very hard for me when she works with me, but it’s more beneficial than taking a 10-day vacation,” she said. “We all have difficult decisions to make right now and I have to support my family.”
“There is weariness in the waves of sickness,” Jones said. “If there was an end, I would take time off from work, but there is no end in sight.”
Pastor said the situation echoes the early days of 2020, but with a notable difference: “There is no question of a closure. We’re just talking about how to deal with the disease so that we don’t overwhelm hospitals and healthcare,” he said. “There will be many scary moments for parents.”
The words echoed in my mind as I watched Jesse, equipped with his new KN95, swinging around with his pack on top of his small body, then galloping towards the right lane to enter the school. When he disappeared behind the school gates, I heard him chatting with another child: “I’m ready.”