By Camila Castellanos
The South Pasadena Unified School District has joined other nearby districts and canceled or postponed all public events that bring large groups of students or adults together, including field trips through May 1, shortly after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak now a pandemic on Wednesday.
The district will now move from virus containment procedures to a mitigation approach, which includes practicing social distancing measures, according to a statement from SPUSD Superintendent Geoff Yantz.
“School sites will provide you with more information about scheduled events in the next few days,” Yantz said. “Thank you for your patience. The SPUSD website now contains recent correspondence, infographics and helpful links for more information.”
He emphasized that although no one within the SPUSD has tested positive for the virus, also known as COVID-19, the district will enact, effective immediately, “proactive steps to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”
Those steps include:
• SPUSD postponing or canceling all public events that bring large groups of students, adults and community members together. Alternate approaches that limit close contact may include conducting assemblies via intercom announcements or conducting events online.
• SPUSD is restricting visitations to schools, including volunteers.
• Conducting parent conferences by phone or another method as determined by the teacher.
• SPUSD postponing or canceling all district-sponsored out-of-state travel scheduled through the last day of school, June 3.
• SPUSD postponing or canceling all school field trips scheduled through May 1, with the exception of Outdoor Science School for Arroyo Vista and Marengo elementary schools. SPUSD, in conjunction with L.A. County Department of Public Health and county Office of Education, will determine if those trips will be permitted.
• SPUSD athletics will continue to be evaluated in consultation with Public Health, CIF and league officials.
• SPUSD will work with community organizations that use its facilities after hours to determine if these events will proceed.
The district continues to require students who have traveled to China, Iran, Italy or South Korea to self-isolate for 14 days after returning to the United States before returning to school. If a member of a student’s family has returned from any of those countries, the student is still permitted to attend school, although the family member is advised to follow instruction from county Public Health and self-isolate for 14 days, according to a statement from Yantz.
At a school board meeting Tuesday night, Yantz and board members had said they hoped they wouldn’t have to take more drastic measures.
“We just hope that we don’t get to a point where we have to take some truly serious measures. We are following the advice and guidance of Public Health,” Yantz noted, while board President Michele Kipke praised his communications with district families.
“I think it was just so incredibly clear that Dr. Yantz is … in many respects ahead of the other districts in terms of just really having ongoing and consistent communication and providing information in real time, as he’s receiving it,” Kipke said.
As of The Review’s press deadline on Wednesday, SPUSD said it will continue to work closely with public health agencies to monitor the coronavirus. Other nearby districts, such as Pasadena’s, had moved on Tuesday to cancel any large student gatherings or events. Typically, a Phase II scenario is carried out when the local public health department has confirmed two or more community transmission cases, but no individuals (staff members or students) at any school have tested positive for COVID-19.
“The situation with coronavirus globally and locally is ever-changing, and each day we are tasked with answering new questions that may arise. Our top priority continues to be the health and safety of our students and staff. We take this responsibility very seriously and continuously work with local public health agencies to obtain the most up-to-date information for our community,” Yantz said in a statement earlier this week. “We understand community concerns about student health and safety.”
If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 existing in South Pasadena, the district “will work in consultation with the expert government agencies … to take the necessary next steps. This situation will be handled on a case-by-case basis,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Public Health confirmed Wednesday the county’s first coronavirus-related death and six new cases, bringing the county’s total to 27. The individual who died was “an older adult who traveled extensively over the past month, including a long layover in South Korea,” the department said in a statement. Among its six additional positive cases, one is presumed to be the second case of community transmission.
Among SPUSD families, some have inquired about keeping a child home as a precaution against contracting COVID-19, but SPUSD said it is maintaining “normal protocol,” which would make that absence marked as unexcused. Any absence due to quarantine or illness will be excused.
At all of the schools, SPUSD said it has stepped up its cleaning and sanitizing efforts in classrooms and high-traffic areas and is providing additional temporary custodial staff as a deeper level of support.
Meanwhile, the city of South Pasadena maintained a stance similar to PUSD’s, with officials closely monitoring developments regarding the coronavirus.
“The health and safety of our residents is our top priority,” said City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe in a statement. “We are regularly engaged with public health officials, partnering jurisdictions as well as state and federal agencies and taking proactive steps to ensure the city is prepared and ready to implement proven prevention strategies to effectively protect the public.”
She emphasized the county Public Health does recommend that all community members “take the opportunity to plan” for the possibility of more significant social distancing requirements should there be broad community spread. Personal preparation measures include:
• Have an ample supply of essentials, including water, food, hygiene, medications and pet food, at home.
• Plan for the possibility of business disruptions, school closures and modifications/cancellations of select public events.
• Practice simple social distancing strategies that limit your exposure to others who may be ill (use verbal salutations in place of handshakes and hugs; avoid sharing utensils, cups and linens; stay 6 feet apart from others at public events).
For more comprehensive information on the virus, visit publichealth.lacounty.gov or the center for disease control at cdc.gov. SPUSD also recommends talking to children about the coronavirus, and has shared a link for more information on how to do that: bit.ly/2Iun5aS.
— Staff writer Zane Hill contributed to this report.