LAUSD’s rigorous COVID testing and quarantines: Necessary or disruptive to in-person learning?

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COVID regulation signs are displayed outside Montara Avenue Elementary School on the first day of school, August 16, 2021. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for KCRW.

Grant Elementary School in Hollywood sent an entire classroom home after seven COVID infections were reported at the school last week. There have also been outbreaks in extracurricular activities, like dance and cheerleading. Those are just a few examples of increasing cases at the Los Angeles Unified School District. 

In the first week of school alone, about 6,500 students at LAUSD (or one in 70) were sent home because they tested positive or were around someone who tested positive, according to Howard Blume, an education reporter for the LA Times. 

Students and staff at LAUSD get tested weekly. If a test comes back positive, the person is told to isolate at home and the district begins contact tracing.

“If you are with a person who tested positive for 15 minutes, close contact, over a 24-hour period, and it's cumulative, then you have to quarantine at home for at least eight days,” says Blume.

Other school systems don’t do this rigorous testing and contact tracing, which could result in unidentified outbreaks but also more seamless in-person teaching.

“Some parents in these districts are unhappy that their school systems aren't doing as much as LA Unified,” he says. “Conversely, there are some parents … who are worried that LA Unified is doing too much and that these quarantines have disrupted education.”

LAUSD tests 500,000 individuals every week, a massive undertaking that requires money (an estimated $350 million this year) and staff to administer and monitor. Blume says the federal and state governments pick up the tab, but the lack of staffing has been an impediment.

“It is a tremendous effort, [but] there is a trade-off involved,” he says.

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