LAUSD’s relaxed health guidelines aim to boost attendance — and school funding

“If your child has a mild runny nose or cold symptoms that are not bothering them, and they test negative for COVID-19, send them to school,” the new LAUSD health guidance reads. Photo by Shutterstock.

Shifting away from strict pandemic-era health guidelines, the Los Angeles Unified School District is now encouraging students with mild symptoms of illness to attend class. The change is part of the district’s strategy to boost attendance — which took a deep hit during the pandemic and has not fully recovered — as well as funding.

“If your child has a mild runny nose or cold symptoms that are not bothering them, and they test negative for COVID-19, send them to school,” the new guidance reads. “If your child has a fever (100.4F and above), vomiting or diarrhea, severe pain or difficulty breathing, take them to see their pediatrician.”

The guidelines encourage families to use “parental instinct” to determine whether a child is too sick to come to campus, and say children “can wear a mask” when attending with mild symptoms.

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union representing teachers in the district, expressed disappointment that LAUSD didn’t take a stronger position on masking while sick at school.

“We want students to attend school whenever possible, but we also want to make sure that all our students and employees – including those who are immune-compromised – are safe at school,” says UTLA Vice President Julie Van Winkle.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho tells KCRW that kids should “absolutely” wear masks, adding “that is our strong recommendation.”

The relaxed health recommendation feels like whiplash to parents and teachers who remember LAUSD’s enforcement of some of the nation’s strictest COVID-19 safety protocols. 

After more than a year of closures, schools reopened for the 2021-2022 academic year with masking requirements, a quarantine policy, and a weekly testing mandate. Students weren’t allowed on campus with any symptoms.

Carvalho points out that the changing health guidelines are part of the district’s strategy to increase attendance, and consequently school funding from the state.

School districts in California are funded based on average daily attendance, rather than the total number of students who are enrolled — a system Carvalho says is “flawed.” 

“We cannot deny the fact that in a post-pandemic reality, attendance has been extremely low,” Carvalho says. He and LAUSD school administrators, principals, and attendance counselors knocked on 9,000 doors during the last academic year to encourage chronically absent students to return to class, as part of the district’s iAttend program.

“I met students who were out 72 days, 40 days, 50 days, 27 days – and when you ask the parents or the students the reasons, one of the reasons that was conveyed to us was that ‘my [child] had the sniffles, and therefore I didn’t think I could send them to school,’” says Carvalho.

Last year, 40% of students in LAUSD were chronically absent, meaning they missed 10% or more of the school days. The previous school year, “chronic absenteeism was at an all time high of 50%,” Carvalho says.

“Educationally speaking, this is a crisis,” he adds.

Carvalho says boosting average daily attendance by 5% would bring around $300 million of funds into the school district.