The 2021-22 school year got underway this week, and in preparation, the South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday unveiled the district’s COVID-19 plan for the year.
“During this time, I can’t express how proud I am of our employees,” said Superintendent Geoff Yantz. “Our community and how everyone has responded and fully committed themselves to maintaining a quality education that we all strive to achieve and provide is really why people move here in South Pas.”
In the third school year of the coronavirus pandemic, the SPUSD will be following Los Angeles County Department of Public Health orders and has expanded its own health team to include the district nurse, school health clerks, a retired district nurse, a licensed vocational nurse, a testing contractor and a county nurse.
The COVID-19 compliance team will consist of district office and parent representatives as well as members from each school in the district. District nurse Abigail Silver will serve as the compliance officer and a liaison between the SPUSD and DPH.
“I have absolutely no doubt that the preparations that we’ve made in the past have positioned us into providing a very safe, healthy, productive learning environment for our students as well as for all of our employees,” Yantz said.
The district has planned layered mitigation measures for what appears to be every facet of safety against COVID-19, starting with face coverings and vaccines. Face coverings will be required indoors for all K-12 students and employees but are optional outdoors.
Vaccination is also encouraged for every person who is eligible — but it is not yet mandatory. That being said, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday that the state will require all teachers to either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing by October.
Although the county Department of Public Health regularly updates vaccination figures for cities and communities, it notably is missing data for 12-17-year-olds in a handful of areas — including South Pasadena.
Multiple board members voiced support for strongly suggesting, rather than requiring, that students and employees wear face coverings outdoors. Michele Kipke, one of the supporters, also emphasized the importance of vaccination for the upcoming school year.
“I say this as an individual, not as a position from the board, that now more than ever it is important that every individual be vaccinated,” said Kipke. “Every single person. If you are a parent, it is time to be vaccinated for your children. If you are between the age of 12 and 17, it is time to be vaccinated for the safety of your little brother or sister. Or for your grandparents, or for your parents.”
The district’s Tuesday presentation said evidence has shown that in-person instruction can take place safely “without minimum physical distancing requirements” if other mitigation strategies like face coverings are in place.
At times when students may be close to each other without face masks, elementary schools will have a recess and lunch extension and assigned table seating to permit adequate spacing. The middle school also has an expanded eating area that includes 20 recently purchased tables with umbrellas.
The SPUSD also recommends that students be tested for COVID-19 when they show possible symptoms of the disease and that they report the results to the school, whether positive or negative.
The district has partnered with Pacific Toxicology Laboratories for optional weekly testing. Those who want the tests must register on Fridays, with drive-thru testing available on Tuesdays in the high school parking lot. High school athletes whose sports are in season will have mandatory weekly testing.
If a student develops symptoms during the school day, they will be given a take-home test kit that can be mailed for sequencing. Each school also has a designated isolation room, staffed with trained employees, for students with symptoms. A parent or guardian will be contacted to pick up the student as soon as possible.
A vaccinated student or employee who has been exposed to COVID-19 and is asymptomatic is not required to quarantine but is encouraged to be tested, in accordance with county measures. Those who are unvaccinated are expected to quarantine for 10 days, though the period may be shortened to seven days if there is a negative test result after the fifth day of exposure.
An anonymous survey regarding vaccination status will be sent to employees soon, and the district plans to adjust its safety measures so that they align with state and county directives as the school year proceeds.
“As soon as we get information, it’s into action by the administration, by staff, by the COVID committee to put those pieces in place,” said board Clerk Zahir Robb, who is positioned to take the board presidency midway through the school year. “We’re doing our best to get that out as soon as possible.”