The Los Angeles Unified School District announced on Friday that 130,000 district students, or around 1/3rd of all students, have been absent this week from school, with the large amount of absences attributed to COVID-19 and COVID-19 fears.
Some of the absences can be directly tied to COVID, with 17% of students and 15% of teachers testing positive earlier this week. While other absences can be attributed to usual factors such as colds, other illnesses, and emergencies, LAUSD staff attributed a lot of them to students and parents being concerned about the omicron variant surge.
“I got e-mails from several parents about this,” said “Rosa,” a Los Angeles public school teacher to the Globe on Friday. “One-third of students being out is roughly where my school is at, and it’s because everyone is afraid of catching COVID, despite being vaccinated or getting the booster.”
“They see the news and just don’t want to take that risk. We do not want to go back to Zoom classes, that is not even on the table for teachers right now. But with everyone insistent on in-person classes and the only way out became absences. So this shouldn’t be surprising.”
LAUSD officials have done what they can to battle the high absences. While absent teachers have had substitute teachers, and office administrators have even replaced absent teachers, officials have conveyed to parents and students that the schools are safe and staff at each school are making them as COVID-free as possible.
“They are safe places because of the protective measures that are in place here,” said incoming LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “Parents need to understand that, they need to bring kids to school.”
“The data trends show that the omicron surge is likely to subside in the coming weeks, and that will bring greater stability among staff and student attendance. But we need to be cautious and I’m concerned about the fact that as soon as conditions improve a little bit, we let our guard down, we go back to where we used to be. We cannot allow that to happen. At stake is the viability of schools being open. The board has done everything right in terms of protective actions for the benefit of students.”
Parents on keeping children home
“I have two boys and a girl I’m keeping out of school this week,” said Ana Hernandez, a parent and a leader of a parents group at her children’s school, in an interview with the Globe on Friday. “We care about them getting an education, but we also need to protect them from any unavoidable dangers. This new strain, the rates of death are lower, but it’s still there. They can also catch it much more easier.
“They can make all the assurances in the world, but their own figures say almost one in five students have COVID. That does not sound safe to any parent.”
Another parent anonymously told the Globe that “We need to keep our kids going to school. They’re taking every precaution. And right now, they really can’t afford to miss any proper schooling after the hectic two years we’ve had. Plus they have vaccination mandates in place and are firing any teacher not complying. They’re serious.”
COVID positivity rates among students and teachers are expected to continue to drop next week, with the number of absences likely to be reduced as a result. Unlike neighboring school districts that have cancelled classes all next week due to COVID-19, such as Culver City, LA is expected to remain open for in-person classes.