Thus far, there have been no COVID-19 transmissions in Arcadia schools
With schools now open once again for in-person learning, the issues facing parents, students, teachers, and administrators are overwhelming, particularly now that the Delta variant has entered the ongoing COVID-19 battle facing our nation. A whole new set of rules, regulations and mandates from local, state, and federal health officials seem to confuse with some frequency.
The very first week of school in Pasadena recorded a considerable number of students who were forced to quarantine after being possibly exposed to COVID-19. The Pasadena Unified School District took immediate steps to isolate those affected. Pasadena is not alone, there have been scores of reported infections and isolations, which is why Arcadia parents feel the urgency to pressure the Board of Education and keep their children as safe as humanly possible while in school.
On Tuesday evening, approximately 30 parents mobilized outside the Arcadia Unified School District’s office between 6 and 7 p.m. to protest the district’s alleged lack of precautions for safe return to class during the ongoing pandemic.
Concerned parents were out in force protesting what they say is a “lack of resources dedicated to the independent study program” for students who decide not to return to classes in-person. Holding signs that clearly were advocating for online learning, particularly for those unable to be vaccinated, parents demanded on site COVID-19 testing on a weekly basis. While admitting that their children fare better with in class instruction, the risks, they say, are too great. Many of the parents we spoke to want online instruction.
Many parent representatives have communicated the requests with district officials, including the superintendent, board members and principals of various schools.
Seventeen parents spoke at the meeting during public comment. There was concern about the COVID dashboard on the district website which indicates seven reported cases, including two staff members, as of Tuesday. However, Chief Communications Officer Ryan Foran was quick to point out that “There are current cases, but none of them have been transmitted from school. Meaning, they did not get it from school.”
The parents outlined the following guidelines they hope the district might consider:
Online Learning and Instructions
1) Enhanced independent study program through the Rancho Learning Center. One teacher should be assigned to each grade to maintain student-to-teacher ratio equivalent to what is offered in-person, parents say. Parents also ask that daily synchronous instructions be provided, especially to students in kindergarten through third grade who need more help.
2) As for students who are required to be quarantined, parents ask that online instructions and/or class recordings be made available to them.
Enhance Testing and Cleaning
3) Parents want the district to provide on campus, mandatory surveillance testing for all staff and students, including those that are vaccinated.
4) Furthermore, parents say frequent disinfection schedules should be established for high-touched common areas such as restrooms and lunch tables, at least 3 times per day.
5) To reduce surface contamination and to speed up the process, students should not be required to punch in ID when getting free lunch, they say.
6) Parents also ask that something be done to improve long lunch line issues.
Social Distancing (for Elementary Schools)
7) Elementary schools should stagger lunch by grade level to create more space when students will be unmasked, parents suggest. They ask that the district consider marking the benches and lunch line floor to promote social distancing and that students sit with the same classroom to avoid mingling of stable groups, which will require adult supervision.
8) Parents suggest that recess also be staggered by grade level to maintain stable groups by classroom. They say schools should consider zoning the playing ground to avoid inter-mingling. Adult supervision should be required, they say.
9) Physical distance should be maximized between students in the classroom and no desks or supplies should be shared, parents argue. They want the district to also consider using shields if desks need to be shared.
Beacon Media requested comment from Arcadia Unified School District’s chief communications officer about the issues raised.
“We always seek and appreciate community input and feedback, which has been pivotal in helping us navigate the pandemic together with our students, staff, parents, and community. Superintendent Dr. Vannasdall and our Board of Education President, Leigh Chavez, personally met with this group of parents to hear their concerns, and the conversation was very productive,” Foran said. “The concerned parents, and any of the families in our district, are more than welcome to express their concerns again and seek more information at our board meetings, which are all open to the public.”
Foran says the district has anchored its decisions on Los Angeles County health guidelines that are continuously updated based on new data. “Many of the current requirements and mandates that are in place for this year are set by the State of California and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and per state law, we are required to follow them,” Foran explains.
The district’s layered approach, Foran says, is working. “When cases are known and reported within our schools, that does not mean that’s where the student contracted COVID-19,” he explained. “Our quarantine and exposure management plan helps prevent the possible spread within our schools and has been extremely effective to date. Thus far, there have been zero COVID-19 transmissions or spread in our schools.”
Foran asserts that most of the frustrations expressed by parents at school board meetings across the country arise from local and state mandates directed by governors, not local school districts following those mandates.
“For example, per current state law and governor mandates, we have been instructed to get kids back in school (physically on campus) barring a medical need (as determined by the parent) to enroll in independent study. The emergency pivot to distance learning in Fall 2020, which lasted through Spring 2021, was only possible through governmental waivers that temporarily modified school attendance requirements and allowed for the delivery of instruction via virtual means,” he explains. “The state’s emergency distance learning provisions that were put in place for the 2020-21 school year expired on June 30. Currently in place are Assembly Bill 86, Assembly Bill 130, and Senate Bill 130, which require independent study options. Therefore, per this guidance, we are offering an independent study option through our Rancho Learning Center. Arcadia families are fortunate that we have had a robust independent study program for years, so unlike some, we did not need to drastically adjust last minute this summer. The independent study program in AUSD meets or exceeds the AB 130 requirements at every level of school.
“We are tremendously appreciative of our incredible staff and their ability to continue to adapt and offer empathy during all of this. We will continue to prioritize the health and safety of our students and staff and continue to work with our parents and community to ensure everyone has all the latest information and to help support our students and families.”
Editor’s Note: Originally published Aug. 25, 2021 at 12:02 p.m. / Updated Aug. 26, 2021 at 11:03 a.m. Two quotes from a parent at the rally have been removed.