With No End in Sight to Pandemic Life, Parents Find Disruption Is the New Normal

As the kindergartener fumbled in his shoes, I stood at our door looking at the mental parenting checklist that had recently come to my mind: the backpack. Sweatshirt. Snacks. sunblock cream. Bottle of water. KN95 mask. Vaccination card.

Jesse asked for his cloth mask, and I explained again that if he wore that mask, he’d need to wear a surgical mask as well, which could make it difficult to run on vacation. So I did my best to twist the flexible ear loops on the KN95 to a size that would fit his cherubic face, and we headed for the door.

When we arrived at Will Rogers Learning Community, our school in Santa Monica, California, the entry path was divided into two lines by a rope of velvet. Children and parents huddle at the entrance to the rope to examine a sheet of paper printed in large font on a music stand. It included classes with Covid cases, whose children had to be tested to enter school. These children were taken to the right, to the cafeteria where staff were helping them put swabs from their little noses. The rest of the children headed to the building.

This is Southern California parenting in Omicron’s days, swimming in an ocean of anxiety, with currents constantly changing direction, an embarrassing soup of fear, determination, and gratitude for those who do the hard work of keeping schools running.

The chaos is evident in Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, where nearly 520,000 children began flocking back into schools on Jan. 11 for the first time in three weeks.

“There’s a lot of urgency in keeping schools open,” says Manuel Pastor, a sociologist who directs the University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute. In fact, under California law that took effect in July, Los Angeles cannot switch to distance learning unless there is an acute staff shortage. However, at the same time, schools have beefed up safety measures that were already among the strictest in the country, updating concealment and testing requirements.

Push and pull is necessary because physical presence is so important for children who are already disadvantaged because they speak other languages ​​at home, or have parents who cannot or will not help with their lessons, Pasteur said. However, these children are more likely to cause risks if they bring the virus home, because their families are more likely to live in crowded homes, their parents are more likely to be key workers, and they are more likely to have unvaccinated siblings or relatives. .

“It’s kind of the worst of the two possible worlds in terms of challenges in distance learning and challenges of going back to school,” he said.

Before the students could return on January 11, they had to participate in baseline testing, either with a home rapid test a few days before school starts — which can sometimes give false negatives — or a fixed-site PCR test. About 65,000 children tested positive before reopening the school; 85,000 or so were also absent on the first day, possibly in part because of the parents’ fear of the virus.

The exam was the easiest part of going back to school, according to many families. There were 60 student sites to pick up free tests. The district already had the largest weekly coronavirus testing program in the country, with every employee and student tested each week.

However, children in quarantine will not have the option to enlarge their classrooms. Schools did not train their teachers to simultaneously teach in-room and online students to students. Officials say that with the district’s revised quarantine rules – which invite only students who test positive or show active symptoms of illness to stay home – those who are quarantined should recover, anyway, and likely be back in a few days .

Even for those who did attend school, the transition wasn’t always smooth. In the morning, schools reopened, the Daily Pass app crashes, as students upload their test results.

So instead of flashing their phones at the school door, the kids formed lines About schools And he underwent a very unscientific process to check for infection status. Some schools have returned to asking screening questions to students and parents.

Interim moderator Megan Riley has apologized for the DailyPass’s glitches. “I knew today wouldn’t be a day when there weren’t some bumps along the way,” she said at a press conference.

Meanwhile, administrative staff have been brought in to replace the 2,000 or so teachers (of 25,000) who came out with the virus or were caring for someone with the virus. On January 12th, a school board member was replaced in one class, and another class had the help of an architect from LAUSD. Gina Schwartz, a parent at LAUSD who co-founded the Parents Supporting Teachers group, said the area is drawing in thousands of staff to help. She said it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

“The narrative is that bus drivers will be teaching algebra, but the truth is that there are a large number of certified teachers working in the administration now,” she said. “One of the advantages of having a bureaucracy is that there are a huge number of people who can fill it.”

The district’s revised quarantine policy states that if there is exposure in a classroom, students can remain in school asymptomatic, and be tested on the fifth day after suspected exposure.

But not every school implements this policy, and some schools, like public charters, have leeway to make their own decisions. The 6-year-old daughter of Paulina Jones, a Kindergartener at Citizens of the World Hollywood charter, was sent home with the rest of her class for 10 days due to exposure in the first week after returning to school.

That’s why Jones was driving to work on January 11, to a construction site where she works as a manager, with her daughter in the back seat. Jones fears it’s a scenario that will keep happening again and again. “Half of the school is in quarantine now,” she said.

Between the long winter break and this quarantine, her daughter only gets one personal education day a month. Jones said Zoom’s instructions do not work for this age group.

“It’s just too stressful for me to have her work with me, but it’s more rewarding than taking 10 days off work,” she said. “We all have to make tough decisions right now, and I have to support my family.”

Jones said there is fatigue with waves of illness. “If there is an end in sight, I will take time off work, but there is no end in sight.”

The situation echoes the early days of 2020, but with a noticeable difference, Pasteur said: “There is no talk of shutting down. There is only talk of disease management so that we don’t overburden hospitals and healthcare.” “There will be a lot of scary moments for parents.”

The words reverberated in my head as I watched Jesse, armed with his new KN95, swing by as he put his backpack on his small frame, and then run toward the right lane to enter the school. When he disappeared at the school gates, I heard him talking to another child: “I’m ready.”

This story is produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an independent editorial service of the California Health Care Corporation.

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