Three weeks into the new academic year for the South Pasadena Unified School District, and it seems — for the most part — students and faculty are adjusting to the return to in-person session after 18 months of distance-learning and modified district regulations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not without its inevitable hurdles, programs like athletics, back to school night, and other school functions have continued since the district’s first day commenced on August 17.
In a letter addressed to the community on August 27, SPUSD Superintendent Geoff Yantz wrote, “Returning to in-person learning brings relief and possibly other challenges as we all adjust to different school experiences. We are deeply focused on the well-being of our students, their safety and their academic, social, and emotional development.”
A chief priority for all 5 of the district’s schools remains the ever-persistent requirements implemented to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, its presence posing an increasing threat to Los Angles County.
The district protocol, which Yantz reiterates is mandated by LA County, states face coverings are required indoors for all K-12 students and employees, while outdoor masking remains optional but is highly recommended in crowded settings. Additionally “promoting frequent hand washing [and] maintaining physical distance when possible” remain core emphases in containing any outbreaks, Yantz reminding parents “please do not send your child to school if they are experiencing symptoms and/or they are sick.”
LA County’s Public Health Department reported that, to date, 1,602 laboratory cases have been confirmed in South Pasadena, about 6.2% of the population. Alongside neighboring cities Highland Park (6,438 total cases at 10.2%), Alhambra (7,814 total cases at 9.2%), San Marino (443 total cases at 3.3%), and Pasadena — who operates as its own jurisdiction outside of LA County — (12,737 total cases at 9%), the metrics indicate that the city’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus have been comparatively successful. “At this time, SPUSD is in an excellent position relative to other school districts in Los Angeles County,” Yantz says, giving a propitious outlook if the district stays its course in keeping up with testing and vaccinations. The State of California reports that, within the City of South Pasadena, 86% of the population that is eligible to be vaccinated —ages 12 and over — has been vaccinated.
Though data has been provided for the City as its own entity via Public Health, metrics for SPUSD, which accounts for 4,460 daily students and 425 staff on location, remain absent.
Currently, SPUSD provides a COVID-19 dashboard, a tool meant to update the community with cases reported within the district as they become known. The online source does not distinguish whether the cases were contracted by students or staff in order to maintain privacy and confidentiality. As of its most recent update on September 2, six total cases have been recorded — two reported at Marengo Elementary and two at SPHS in August. Two more cases were reported at Arroyo Vista Elementary for the beginning of September. According to Yantz, “all cases were contracted outside of our school campuses” while parents and guardians of students deemed close contacts were notified directly by the SPUSD Health Team which initiates a process that encapsulates the following:
- Work with the infected individual and teachers to identify any close contacts.
- Notify the close contacts immediately and provide detailed information to them about next steps depending on their vaccination status.
- May contact the affected class(es) (if the student was present in class during the infectious period).
- May notify the entire campus of the positive case.
- Submit a report to the Los Angeles County Department of Health.
- Update the SPUSD COVID-19 Dashboard.
This, however, excludes the first case of coronavirus reported at the high school by the Tiger, SPHS’ resident newspaper, on August 10. A week prior to the campus opening, one student-athlete was confirmed to have contracted the virus on August 5, with principal John Eldred notifying families of the positive case the following day in an email. According to the report, no further information was disclosed over which team the athlete belonged to, but “Eldred confirmed that everyone in contact with the infected individual was notified and given instructions to get tested, and quarantine as per LA County Department of Health protocols.”
Among the many diligent day-to-day routines, Yantz and the district strongly encourage those who are eligible for vaccination do so, “One of the many advantages of being vaccinated, per the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidance, is that your child is not required to quarantine if they are deemed a close contact and do not have symptoms,” he said, noting that future vaccination clinics — like the ones that were provided at SPMS in the summer — are expected to open “especially when many individuals may be due for booster shots. Testing also remains crucial with the SPUSD COVID-19 testing site having tested over 400 students and employees, all of whom came back with negative results. Testing is optional and available for all K-12 students and district employees at no cost to patients.
Another Public Health update on Wednesday verified that in LA County, between August 14 and August 21, the case rate increased 50% among children 5 to 11, while the rate increased 13% in children 0 to 4 years old, and 24% in children 12 to 17 years old. The department also states that, based on numbers tallied last week, there is a “four-fold difference in the case rate between vaccinated children and unvaccinated children.”
As the community presses forward, the superintendent depends on understanding and cooperation. “Everyone is learning how to deal with this new reality… We’re all in this together, and I ask you to demonstrate these values in your interactions with students, teachers, administrators, and other parents. We have faced and have overcome many obstacles, and we will continue to do so,” said Yantz