Midpeninsula Post

200 MVLA students out on quarantine; district can’t legally switch to remote learning at the moment

Mountain View High School students at brunch in January 2022. (Allison Huang)

It’s been a week for COVID at Mountain View–Los Altos Union schools. Since Monday, 88 COVID-positive students and staff stepped foot on campus, 11 times the highest number ever reported until now.

And those are only the ones who came on campus. A total of around 200 students and 30 staff — many of whom got the virus over the winter break and didn’t come back to school — are out on quarantine.

Still, the district has no plans to return to remote learning, and in fact can’t unilaterally make that decision, according to Leyla Benson, associate superintendent and the district’s COVID designee.

“The injunctions that were previously in place so that we could offer remote instruction are not currently [there],” Benson said. “So we don’t even have that same authority that we had in the past. … I think there are some misconceptions about what districts are allowed to do right now.”

In the absence of an explicit state or local health order, schools can only offer virtual learning through independent study programs, and can’t require that families enroll in that.

The only exceptions are if the virus causes a staffing shortage that districts can’t meet (in which case districts must show they’ve exhausted all other options before entering into collective bargaining with the teachers’ union), or if districts shut down using snow or smoke days already built into collective bargaining agreements (in which case those days would be made up later in the year).

Benson said that so far, the district’s been able cover all missing staff, but that it’s “sort of at the cusp right now.”

Given the high volume of cases, a host of changes, including daily symptom trackers, random testing and weekly athlete testing will go into effect on Monday.

The district has also stopped sending close contact notifications as it did last semester, because Benson said there’s a low chance the district would be able to accurately report close contacts as it did when there were only a few cases a week.

“When you look at it, you have to acknowledge that the chances are that you are, yourself, a close contact,” Benson said. “These are the reported cases. You may be near someone who’s going to report tomorrow. So we need you to operate under the assumption that you’re a close contact.”

Testing once, if not multiple times a week is the best course of action for students, she said.

Current protocol dictates that any student or staff member who tests positive must quarantine for 10 days following the date of the test. Bryant Martinez, a Los Altos senior, said he tested positive on Monday after taking one of the antigen tests provided by the district.

“It was kind of bound to happen, especially because I work in a movie theater,” Martinez said. “In terms of catching up with work, I’m not too ill so I can still do some homework here and there.”

Martinez said that he’s had all the support he needs from his teachers, and isn’t too worried about missing out on eight days of school.

“[I’m not worried], just because it’s the beginning of the semester,” he said. “If it were in the middle of the semester then I would feel like I would fall behind, but as of right now, not really.”

Eva Spaid, a Mountain View senior who tested on Monday and got her result on Tuesday, also said that she’s less stressed because it’s the start of the semester.

Spaid said her English teacher is letting students Zoom into the class from quarantine, in a setup that’s not unlike last year’s hybrid learning classrooms.

“I really appreciate it, and the effort that people are going through is really helpful — because it’s a lot missing 10 days of school,” Spaid said.

She said that she wasn’t sure if setting up Zooms would be as useful for other classes that aren’t as discussion-based as AP Lit, though.

“I do know being on Zoom for like the whole day is draining,” Spaid said. “So I think it depends on the class. … For a lot of other classes it’s definitely easier to get by asynchronously.”

Benson said that as per state education code, the district and school administrators can’t tell teachers to offer hybrid instruction for sick students — it would be against the same codes that make it difficult to switch to distance learning.

“There’s nothing stopping teachers from being creative with how they are offering that independent study work,” Benson said. “We just as a school cannot declare certain things. But teachers have a lot of authority over their curriculum and the delivery of their curriculum. And …[I’ve gotten positive feedback] about the creative ways in which teachers have strategically reached out to students or engaged them.”

The district’s COVID spike follows broader state and county trends, which have seen case numbers and test positivity rates spike far higher than last winter’s Delta-driven surge.

Deaths and hospitalizations, though, have largely been decoupled from case numbers, both declining since the fall — with vaccinated individuals far less likely to suffer both. 82.2% of Santa Clara County residents are fully vaccinated, and 58.1% of eligible residents have received the booster.

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