All students and employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District will be required to take weekly coronavirus tests regardless of their vaccination status, under a new district policy announced Thursday.
The district had previously required such testing only for those who are unvaccinated.
The announcement was made by interim Supt. Megan K. Reilly in a letter sent to parents.
“We are closely monitoring evolving health conditions and adapting our response in preparation for our full return to in-person learning on August 16,” Reilly said in the letter. Baseline testing for students returning to campus begins Aug. 2, she added.
Families have the option of choosing to remain off campus — and to avoid coronavirus testing — by choosing distance learning. Officials, however, are encouraging students to return, saying that, for the vast majority of students, the best learning takes place in a classroom.
The deadline for opting to remain online is Friday. Families that don’t choose will be assigned to learn in person.
The policy change comes amid rising coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County and beyond, with the surge largely blamed on the highly infectious Delta variant. Many parents have recently expressed concern over safety as the start of school approaches in the nation’s second-largest school system.
For them, the revised policy was welcome news.
“I was both relieved and thrilled to see that the LAUSD will once again be testing all students and staff, regardless of vaccination,” said Jenna Schwartz, the co-founder of the Facebook group Parents Supporting Teachers. “As the parent of a 6th grader who isn’t old enough to be vaccinated, I will be relying on those around him getting tested regularly, as well as community vaccination.”
But the decision did not please all parents.
“As a parent, it is my responsibility to keep them healthy and safe, I do not need the district to poke and prod my healthy children unnecessarily. This mitigation strategy they claim to be of the highest standard is severely overreaching,” said one west San Fernando Valley parent, who requested anonymity out of concern that her child could be targeted for criticizing the district.
Teachers’ union President Cecily Myart-Cruz issued a supportive statement after the district announcement.
“Vaccines are like seatbelts: necessary but not invincible,” Myart-Cruz said. “Just like we need seatbelts, airbags, and speed limits, we need masks, ventilation, and testing to keep school communities safe.”
In an interview Thursday before the announcement, Myart-Cruz generally praised the district’s focus on safety, while noting growing fears regarding the Delta variant. She also encouraged district employees and community members to get vaccinated but said she does not support a vaccination requirement for employees or students.
In April, when campuses reopened for the first time in more than a year, the vast majority of students did not return. At the time, the percentages of those returning were 7 percent for high schools, 12 percent for middle schools, and 30 percent for elementary schools. Persisting safety fears were a primary reason.
Early this summer, officials expected any reluctance to return to decline dramatically, especially because of low infection rates and a gradual return to normal.
But in-person enrollment in summer school, which was available to all students, remained low compared to total enrollment, with fewer than 1 in 5 students taking part. A lot of families might have simply wanted the summer off from school before the fall.
Then came the rapid increase in infections due to the Delta variant.
Although health officials have said that approved vaccines provide strong protection against the virus, including the Delta variant, they do not completely prevent vaccinated people from becoming infected. They do, however, largely prevent vaccinated people from becoming severely ill or dying from COVID-19.
“I’m glad to see LAUSD taking this extra step to protect our community now that we know that even vaccinated people may be able to spread the Delta variant,” said Eagle Rock parent Carmel Levitan. “LAUSD did an amazing job last spring — the safest major district in the country — and it’s a relief that they are continuing to put safety first.”
Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination and many older students have not been vaccinated, along with some employees.
The new L.A. Unified policy “is in accordance with the most recent guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health,” Reilly wrote in her message.
The county health department does not require testing those at schools who are vaccinated, but it permits local school systems to adopt a more stringent testing policy.
Details on the district’s testing program are available on the district’s Safe Steps to Safe Schools page online.
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