As LA County’s COVID unmasking progresses, hard part remains for district – building consensus – Daily News

As debate continues over whether Los Angeles Unified should lift its indoor masking mandate — and if so, for how long and for whom? — there doesn’t yet appear to be a strong consensus in the school district on the way forward.

On the one hand, some parents and educators believe it’s high time for children to shed their masks and regain a sense of normalcy more than two years after the coronavirus pandemic upended lives around the world.

On the other hand, there are families who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus and whose communities continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic. They are not ready to let their guard down.

Then there are the school employees themselves, some of whom the unions representing them say are concerned about unsafe conditions if the masking mandate is lifted.

The president of United Teachers Los Angeles said it may be “premature” to discuss her lifting, but she’s not the only one to express reservations.

In interviews this week, the heads of two other employee groups said it was worth discussing whether children at preschool and elementary education sites should continue to wear masks.

“We might want to have a conversation about elementary schools that aren’t lifting the mandate yet,” said Max Arias, executive director of Service Employees International Union, Local 99, which represents about 30,000 LAUSD-classified workers, including special education assistants, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, food service workers and caretakers.

Kindergarten students eat lunch at Beckford Charter for Enriched Studies in Northridge on Tuesday, February 22, 2022. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The reason, Arias said, is that children under the age of 5 are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and elementary school students have the lowest vaccination rate among all eligible age groups.

Nery Paiz, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which represents principals and other administrators of school sites, said some members of his organization have expressed concern about waiving the mandate for young children for the same reasons.

In LA County, about 35% of children ages 5 to 11 have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 29% are fully vaccinated, according to the most recent county public health department data.

Some who oppose giving the COVID-19 vaccine to children say young people are less likely to get seriously ill or die from the coronavirus. While this is true, there have been cases of hospitalizations and deaths of children, and they can still transmit the virus to others.

Guarantee security conditions

Before the district changes its masking rules, Arias said the SEIU would want assurances that safe working conditions can be maintained. For example, special education assistants and paraprofessionals who change or feed students with special needs and who have much closer contact with students, as well as bus drivers who transport students in an enclosed space, may be more at risk if students only have to wear masks, he said.

“We want to ask the district ‘have they thought about it?’ Otherwise, we have to find solutions to make every worker, every student feel safe,” he said.

Leetsia Fox, president of the LA chapter of the California School Employees Association, supports the current masking mandate.

“During the last omicron surge, we saw staffing shortages and negative impacts on our school sites due to the rapid spread of COVID-19,” she wrote in an email. “The district’s decision to proceed with extra caution regarding the safety of students, staff, and our community is the correct one in this instance.”

If LA Unified decides to end the masking requirement, Paiz said the district should consider leaving its COVID-19 testing program unchanged — especially at preschool and elementary education sites. Currently, all students and staff at every campus are tested weekly for the coronavirus, although district officials recently suggested curtailing operations.

“As long as testing continues, it will help” if the mask mandate is lifted, Paiz said. “Testing will always provide that safety net.”

But it has cost the district at least $241 million this school year in testing and contact tracing, a price that could soar to $527 million through June unless operations are curtailed.

Although the district expects most, if not all, expenses to be reimbursed by the federal government on time, officials said they don’t know when that will happen, and some, including the new superintendent Alberto Carvalho, had already mentioned the idea. reduce the frequency or scope of testing.

What parents think

For those who have been calling for an end to school masking requirements for months, this week’s announcements by state and county officials that they would lift their mandates were long overdue.

“It’s insulting to us at this point not to unmask,” said Johanna Lopez Minassian, a mother of three who lives in Brentwood. “I vaccinated all my children. I keep them home when they are sick. For people who do that and follow the data, that’s when you start to see parents backing off.

She said she wouldn’t necessarily oppose masking again if there was a further rise in cases. Until then, she says, “we cannot live in a state of fear. We have to move forward.

It’s not that easy for Zulema Camacho to move on. The East LA resident has lost loved ones to COVID-19 and knows homes where no one is vaccinated. Although her three daughters from K-12 schools have received their COVID-19 shots, she still fears they may be infected, especially her eldest, a high school student who suffers from asthma.

Camacho, who lives in Boyle Heights, said she and other parents are concerned that masking will become optional. They don’t think the masking requirement should end until the district’s student vaccination mandate takes effect next fall.

“(I) understand that it’s been a long time and people are tired” of masking up, said Camacho, who spoke in Spanish, through a translator. “But they should think about families with more difficult conditions and families who live with grandparents. … Waiting a little longer with the mask mandate is better than seeing COVID cases rise again.

That families are divided over the issue of masking is no surprise.

Los Angeles Unified officials are still deciding whether or not to lift the school district’s indoor masking mandate. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey of just over 1,500 adults nationwide found that nearly 43% of parents believe masking requirements should remain in place. The survey was conducted last month before the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines saying most people can stop wearing masks – although the agency still recommends masking in the schools.

In a separate survey of California voters conducted by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, pollsters found that 61% of parents of school-aged children supported masking requirements. school.

That survey was conducted in early February, also ahead of new CDC guidelines and before LA state and county officials announced plans to end masking mandates in schools. State and county health officials have stressed that while they are lifting masking mandates, they are still strongly recommending people wear face coverings in educational settings.

What district officials think

Two days after the state and county announced they would no longer require indoor masking in schools starting March 12, LAUSD School Board Vice Chairman Nick Melvoin said the district should s align with state and county guidelines.

“I hope we can work with all stakeholders to make indoor masking optional in schools after 3/12 – and that we can announce updated policies for indoor masking and COVID testing before then,” he said in a Posting on Twitter.

It is unclear whether the majority of the board is of the same view.

Board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin said Friday, March 4 that, while keeping in mind the communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and the racial disparities in vaccination rates, she was leaning towards the mandate remaining in place for the remainder of the school year. .

“I want to center our hardest hit communities who have also been impacted by so many systems of oppression,” she said. “I have to prioritize the communities that are constantly being pushed aside.”

Ortiz Franklin said she was not in favor of different policies being applied on different campuses, where some schools would be allowed to end masking requirements but others would have to continue to adhere to them.

Board member Jackie Goldberg said she would support any recommendations from a team of health and medical experts who have advised the district on its pandemic response for the past two years. .

As of Friday afternoon, the district had not announced any changes to its masking policy, though the superintendent stressed that officials would rely on science to guide their decisions regarding COVID-19 protocols.

“The science that has informed the on-ramp of the protective protocols currently in place, which have ensured the well-being of our students and workforce, must also inform the on-ramp as conditions change. of health are improving”, Carvalho tweeted.

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