By Breeana Greenberg, Special to the Independent
With school starting across Laguna Beach Unified School District on Aug. 23, teachers will be expected to show proof of vaccination or face COVID-19 testing.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Aug. 11 a public health order requiring all school staff to prove that they are fully vaccinated or be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week.
“Educators want to be in classrooms with their students, and the best way to make sure that happens is for everyone who is medically eligible to be vaccinated, with robust testing and multi-tiered safety measures,” California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd said in a press release.
School Board President Carol Normandin explained the Board had already directed Superintendent Jason Viloria to keep students safe by requiring vaccines for all district employees before Newsom announced the mandates.
“The Delta variant is more contagious – we have young students who do not have access to the vaccine yet – we must continue to protect them and the community at large from the spread of this deadly respiratory virus,” Normandin said. “As public health has shared, the best defense against respiratory pathogens is a swiss cheese approach. Vaccines and testing are only two parts of that respiratory model.”
Michael Conlon, assistant superintendent of human resources, presented a staff vaccination status study at the Aug. 10 special school board meeting. Of the 50% of district staff who responded by the meeting, 97% said they were vaccinated. Staff members have until today to respond to the survey.
Regardless of vaccinations status, staff and students will be required to wear masks indoors and on school busses. However, it is optional to wear a mask outdoors. Based on Cal OSHA guidance, fully vaccinated staff are allowed to remove their masks when there are no students on campus. N95 masks will be available to unvaccinated staff members at each school site’s administration desk.
The district partnered with Ambry Genetics and the Orange County Department of Education to make COVID-19 self-testing kits available to every school site and the district office. Throughout the school year, any student or staff member who was considered in close contact with someone who’s been symptomatic will be provided a testing kit. Students and staff will be able to mail in their used kit to a FedEx Drop Box location and have results within 24 hours of the lab receiving the kit.
Vaccinated students and students who had COVID-19 within the past 90 days will not be required to quarantine or be tested as long as the student does not develop symptoms. Students who develop symptoms will need to isolate for 10 days and get tested.
Temporary staff was brought in during the pandemic to backfill for staff on leave and help reduce class sizes. Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jeff Dixon explained that the temporary staff is being paid for by COVID-19 relief funds and has no impact on the general fund budget. The student-to-teacher ratio, based on current and pre-enrolled students, is estimated at 21 to 1 at Top of the World Elementary, 20 to 1 at El Morro Elementary, 21 to 1 at Thurston Middle, and 22 to 1 at Laguna Beach High School. Principal Jason Allemann estimated that pre-pandemic classes at the high school averaged around 28 to 30 students.
“We’re seeing higher case rates of COVID in Orange County, as well as obviously, California,” Viloria said. “So, this is all based on what we know today. I think we all recognize, over the last year-plus, that we need to be nimble and adaptable and be ready for any kind of change that might be coming our way.”
“I think we all had hoped there wasn’t going to be all these changes last minute and everything,” Normandin said. “The juggling, and just the flexibility and nimbleness that everyone’s had, keeping everyone safe, kind of recreating and strengthening that belonging that I think everybody wants to have, and a little bit more normalcy.”
At Thursday’s school board meeting, the board was scheduled to discuss COVID-19 back to school plans and the need to regularly test the school community.