By Breeana Greenberg, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education voted Sept. 9 against requiring all students to get tested for COVID-19.
A motion to require a one-time COVID-19 test for students attending campuses failed on a 2-3 vote (Board Members Dee Perry, Jan Vickers, and Kelly Osborne opposed).
Teachers and students can still request a COVID-19 test at the district’s expense.
After considering mandatory testing at a special meeting on Sept. 3, board members directed staff to bring back more information at the following board meeting on what the testing process would look like with the hope of gathering baseline data on exposure.
Supt. Jason Viloria outlined different testing options for the district to consider. The options ranged from mandating all students be tested one time for COVID-19 to develop a baseline idea of community transmission to maintaining the status quo by continuing to make tests available for families who request them.
“So [the state] does not provide a hard and fast expectation around testing,” Viloria said. “They really do leave it up to the local area to determine what is the situation in the school district and the community and what is then the decision of local agencies to determine how best to move forward.”
California Dept. of Public Health officials have suggested different frequencies of testing depending on the district’s vaccination rate and community spread. In communities with lower case rates, periodic testing can be helpful to keep track of COVID-19 cases. Communities with higher case rates could prevent new cases from testing all unvaccinated students and staff on a regular basis.
Viloria explained that screening testing “can help promptly identify cases and quarantine those who have been exposed and not fully vaccinated.”
Osborne noted that the vaccination rate among 12 to 17 year-olds in Laguna Beach has risen significantly. According to Orange County Health Care Agency data from Sept. 9, 63% were vaccinated as opposed to 43% three weeks earlier, Osborne said.
“That is just a fantastic movement that we’ve seen in our youth population,” Osborne said. “That would be considered high vaccine coverage, so again, CDC and CDPH recommend that local agencies… like us that are trying to make this decision on screening testing, look at those three factors: community transmission, vaccine coverage in your community, and your local outbreak trends…”
Colleen Connelly, a Laguna Beach parent, pointed out that community spread of COVID in the district has also decreased.
“Last Friday, there were 44 people in quarantine or actively COVID in the Laguna Beach Unified district,” Connelly said. “Today there were 23, so it has not spread. It is not going anywhere. I still have an opinion that it was based on everybody I know coming back from vacation internationally and across the country within the five days before school started. And that seemed to be playing out with the numbers. I definitely think we need to continue to look at that as we make those decisions.”
Laguna Beach resident Wyatt Peabody felt that baseline testing should have been done prior to the start of the school year, adding that it was still important to get an idea of community spread following Labor Day weekend.
“I have spent the past 18 months managing COVID cases in Texas, I’ve processed several hundred of them, and I’ve seen firsthand what it does to people, families, and communities,” Peabody said. “I see both sides, I have friends on both sides. But if we want to keep our kids safe, baseline testing is the next logical step.”
Osborne proposed that the district test students for COVID-19 before returning to campus from holiday breaks. In order to return to campus, all students would need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Perry and Vickers were against mandating testing.
Perry said she’d rather increase communications with families to encourage families to volunteer to be tested. President Carol Normandin felt that the motion to test before the Nov. 9 and Jan. 4 return to school was not flexible enough. Member James Kelly wanted to get a baseline now, in order to get a better understanding of community spread.
“I have full confidence in the administration and their thinking on things so I’d like it to be as flexible as possible for them to carry out but I’d like to see a baseline,” Kelly said. “I really like your ideas as far as for coming back after the holidays. I really would think we could do the rapid test at school, but it could cost us more. Or allow the parents to do it at home and the ones that we don’t get it back in time, allow the kids to come to school and do the rapid test right on the campus.”