Viviane Safrin’s third-grade son Levi spent much of what should have been a school day on Friday morning at home putting together a space puzzle and bouncing on the couch. Dan Lee took his restless son, Yaichiro, who is in Levi’s class, to Stow Lake in San Francisco.
Where the boys really wanted to be was in their classroom at Clarendon Elementary School in San Francisco Unified, where their teacher would be fantastic. But their parents said the school sent the entire class home to quarantine on Thursday after one person tested positive for COVID-19, even without any signs of illness.
Similar stories are surfacing in the Bay Area and statewide this fall as the highly contagious delta variant of the virus makes it harder to return to school in California after a year of online ‘distance learning’ poor. Parents complain that schools are unnecessarily quarantining healthy children and worsening the educational and emotional damage caused by the pandemic.
“My child cried all afternoon because he just wants to go to school, and now we are in an educational desert because the teacher is not allowed to switch to distance education “Safrin said Thursday after hearing the news. “The level of learning loss will continue, and for what? This is not what science tells us to be necessary.
Parents who have spent the spring fighting public school boards in a state that has been lagging the country on returning children to classrooms fear California will renege on its promise to keep them there this fall. And despite shortcomings in distance education, which the state rolled back over the summer, they say there is no clear workaround for children who have to quarantine themselves at home. House.
“There is no plan B, no distance learning provision,” Lee said.
California Department of Public Health school guidelines call for a 10-day quarantine of unvaccinated “close contacts” of a person testing positive for COVID-19 if they were within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes on a 24 hour period. Unvaccinated include children under 12 who are too young for vaccines.
An exposed child can return to school after 10 days if they have no symptoms, or after seven days with a negative test result taken five days after quarantine begins.
But the rules also allow that if the infected and exposed had both worn face masks, the exposed student can continue to come to class in a “modified quarantine” without sports and other extracurricular activities if the tests done twice a week. remain negative.
But that’s not happening in many places, including San Francisco Unified, despite a host of other measures to control the virus. According to state rules, everyone must wear masks in schools in San Francisco, which offer COVID-19 testing five days a week. The district purchased more than 3,000 portable air purifiers to ventilate classrooms, where windows and doors are often kept open, and quickly built and expanded online learning options due to increased demand. .
Still, Laura Dudnick, public relations manager for San Francisco Unified, said that “until we have confidence in our systems to perform a modified quarantine, we do not implement a modified quarantine.”
“We are continually creating new systems that require people, technology, labor agreements, communications, etc. “Said Dudnick,” and the modified quarantine is a system we would only want to implement if we could do it with all the controls in place. to ensure the safety of our students and staff.
It is far from the only neighborhood where this has been a problem.
Jonathan Zachreson, a Roseville father and founder of the Reopen California Schools parent group that is suing the state over its school pandemic rules, said the same was happening in schools in his area and officials in charge of the ‘State had to intervene.
“I hear from distraught parents almost every day,” Zachreson said. “California is heading for another education crisis if we don’t get these excessive and unnecessary quarantines of healthy children under control.”
Frightened and tearful sixth graders were sent home last week for exposure to COVID-19 at Charlotte Wood Middle School in San Ramon Valley Unified, which lists just three cases among its nearly 1,000 students and staff.
Albany Middle School recently ordered the quarantine of all unvaccinated children in affected classrooms after a second confirmed case of COVID-19 in a week.
“I think it is ridiculous that my child’s middle school requires healthy children to be quarantined,” said the mother of one student, who did not want to be identified as she said “a neighbor shamed me and my kids because my kids don’t wear masks outside while playing.
Jolanka Nickerman, whose daughters attend schools in Albany, said the district is resorting to quarantines as it grapples with staff and testing shortages with little state support.
Albany’s Unified Superintendent Frank Wells said the decision was made out of “an abundance of caution” as the testing capacity was not sufficient for a modified quarantine, and he feared more widespread measures might be taken. needed if infections spread.
“It’s new to all of us,” Wells said. “We learn as we go. “
In Windsor Unified, Sonoma County, the entire sixth-grade class at Cali Calmecac Language Academy was quarantined on August 23 after a confirmed infection with the children just returning to class this week.
“It blew me away that they are sending everyone home, especially the kids who have no symptoms,” said Daniel Bryant, whose 11-year-old daughter Alexis was among the students quarantined, which forced him to take time. away from her cybersecurity job to be home with her.
But Superintendent Jeremy Decker said they had no choice. Because the exposed students were unable to provide adequate information to county health officials about the people they had had lunch and recreation with, unmasked, the district was told the entire class should be quarantined.
“In Sonoma County, the decision of who goes into full or modified quarantine is dictated by the county health department,” Decker said. “They tell us, based on their contact tracing, if anyone, and who, needs to go into full quarantine. Obviously, as a school district, we are concerned about the safety of our students. “
But that is little consolation for parents like Safrin who have to comfort their crying children who are not ready to take on the role of teacher. Although Levi did some reading and math homework on Friday, it clearly wasn’t enough to fill his morning.
“Her teacher is wonderful,” Safrin said. “My son wakes up in the morning full of energy, he can’t wait to go to school, comes home tired like an 8 year old should do and can’t wait to start again tomorrow. What am I supposed to provide her over the next week? “