A student is tested for COVID-19 as per LAUSD's previous testing mandate. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Coronavirus Coverage

Opinion: New LAUSD COVID-19 guidelines mark premature, overzealous return to ‘normal’

LAUSD must approach the upcoming semester with caution and compromise, a tactic that the current COVID-19 plan fails to execute.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/bookpapaya/" target="_self">Maya Henry</a>

Maya Henry

January 6, 2022

Though it’s only been a semester since more than 400,000 Los Angeles Unified School District students and employees fully returned to in-person school, new COVID-19 guidelines indicate that the school district is desperate to leave online learning — and safety — as a relic of the past.

Per LAUSD’s regularly updated Safe Steps to Safe Schools page, the spring ‘22 semester will see numerous changes to COVID-19 restrictions and rules for students and staff. Employees and youth alike will not require a baseline negative PCR test before returning to campus the week of January 10, regardless of vaccination status, and will instead test at some point during the first week of school.

Schools with 85% or more students vaccinated will no longer require students to wear masks while outdoors, be it during passing periods, PE, or before and after school. And, perhaps most monumentally, what once was mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing will become a distant memory starting January 31 for students who have uploaded proof of full COVID-19 vaccination to their Daily Pass, an account that generates a QR code needed by every student, employee, and guest to gain entry onto an LAUSD campus.

Similarly making waves, it was recently announced that the district’s contentious student vaccination mandate was pushed from the rapidly approaching January 10 deadline to fall 2022, a decision that came after 28,000 students missed the cut-off to have gotten their first shot.

Such relaxed rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated students alike come at an unfortunate and dangerous time.

On December 29, 16,510 new COVID-19 cases were reported in L.A. County, and hospitals continue to see unprecedented spikes in hospitalization records, both trends that are not expected to stop soon.

In an effort to combat such spikes, UCLA, USC and other colleges and universities have announced they’ll be starting the spring semester online.

LAUSD, however, has remained steadfast in its commitment to keeping students in in-person classes, an important goal when considering that students — disproportionately students of colorwere overwhelmingly not supported by online learning within the district.

Though important to keep the physical doors of district education open, there’s no reason that recklessness should be similarly welcomed onto school campuses. Students who have received the full two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are considered fully vaccinated and immune from testing, with booster shots not yet included in the “fully vaccinated” definition.

With only students 16 and older even being eligible for the booster, and studies finding that the efficiency of the Pfizer vaccine begins to wane after two months of injection, to stop testing a mammoth and still at-risk population of students and employees is a flaw in the system — one with potentially fatal repercussions. 

For many vaccinated students, weekly testing served as a reassurance that when seeing friends and family inside and outside of the school day, students weren’t exposing others to the virus. Similarly, students were reassured that they hadn’t become infected.

Now, with immunity slipping and testing ending, vaccinated students no longer know that they are safe from both spreading and catching COVID-19, an insecurity that can map out dangerously as more and more activities and interactions commence in-person. With international PCR test shortages running rampant, it is also increasingly implausible to ask students to get tested independently next semester.

The lack of mandatory testing becomes even more concerning when considering that in schools where 85% of students are vaccinated, masks will become optional outdoors.

With no social distancing rules mandated per LA County’s Department of Public Health, vaccinated and unvaccinated students alike in qualifying schools will be able to share as little space as they like for as long as their schedule allows, sans mask, and, sans knowing if they are currently infected with COVID-19.

Keeping students in physical schools is a necessity for LAUSD, and words truly can not describe the value that in-person education has brought back to students’ lives after a year and some change online.

Similarly, keeping students and staff, as well as all their corresponding families and communities, safe and COVID-19-free is of utmost importance, especially in a county facing yet another challenging chapter in the pandemic.

Despite the idealistic notion that schools return to a version unaltered by the pandemic, LAUSD must approach the upcoming semester with caution and compromise, a tactic that the current COVID-19 plan fails to execute.