EDUCATION Manhattan Beach Unified School District COVID cases increase 

by Mark McDermott 

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District saw an uptick in COVID-19 cases after a week in classrooms following the winter break, but still reports case rates lower than most area and regional schools. 

According to data released on January 11, 6.9 percent of students and staff are currently positive with COVID-19. By contrast, 17 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District students have tested positive and 15 percent of staff. At nearby Redondo Union High School, 17 percent of students and staff have likewise tested positive, compared to only 7.7 percent at Mira Costa High School. 

Direct comparison, however, may be misleading. LAUSD has required all students be tested, whereas MBUSD encourages, but does not require testing for students to enter campuses. Redondo Unified is utilizing the Beach Cities Health District rapid testing, meaning it reports daily totals that are more accurate. MBUSD also has utilized BCHD tests but in lesser numbers. With its testing vendor, MBUSD has encountered four to six-day lags between testing and results.

Superintendent John Bowes said MBUSD this week utilized the home tests supplied by the state of California for all students and has just received more take-home tests. 

“We continue to refine our operations and update health and safety measures to keep our classrooms and schools open as we receive new guidance from the California and Los Angeles County Departments of Public Health,” Bowes said. 

Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association president Shawn Chen said the number of staff members out sick has exacerbated the challenge of keeping schools open during the Omicron surge. 

“MBUSD does not have the organizational capacity to ensure staff and student safety, related not just to COVID —  staff is so thin that we don’t have the agility to address non-COVID related issues and emergencies,” Chen said. 

Chen said the lag in testing results is problematic. Sometimes the lags are more than six days, she said, and results simply don’t come back. 

“The testing company the district is using is not getting results fast enough,” Chen said. “Positive kids are on campus. At elementary schools the modified quarantine should not be happening with unvaccinated kids. They are not following the protocols.” 

The modified quarantine is being allowed by the County and utilized by MBUSD. It allows students who were in close contact with students who test positive to remain in school so long as it can be confirmed that both were wearing masks, among other requirements. The County’s requirements are detailed, but difficult to follow with fidelity at all school sites. 

Chen noted that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced a protocol change on Monday that will end attempts at contract tracing students and staff who test positive. 

“Not because it’s now safe for people to not get notified of close contacts, but because of overwhelming lack of capacity to get results of testing in a timely way,” Chen said. “In that way, close contacts can’t be notified, and may be spreading — so the announcement that contact tracing will stop presumes that kids won’t experience catastrophic consequences from this virus, and that keeping schools open is more important than stemming the case rates.” 

LA County Office of Education Superintendent Debra Duarda, in a letter to school districts, said the revised strategy reflects all the mitigation efforts implemented that make campuses less likely to be places where the virus is transmitted. 

“One of the messages we need to emphasize along with the Los Angeles County Department of Health is that students being on campus have more protection than when they’re in the community because of the layered levels of COVID-19 prevention measures at schools,” Duarte said. 

Not everyone agrees. Pamphlets were posted at Mira Costa High School this week that highlighted the 7.7 positivity rate and asked, “How many more before MBUSD puts its foot down and stubs out this crisis? Know your rights to stay home.” ER 

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