First published in the Jan. 6 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
While predictions abounded for high absences at area schools when the holiday break ended, the San Marino Unified School District had a 92% attendance rate on Monday when doors were opened following the fortnight of closure.
Rumors abounded of districts returning via distance or hybrid learning while officials were able to get their arms around an increased COVID infection rate, but it was full speed ahead at the SMUSD. Huntington Middle School boasted a 96% attendance rate on Monday, impressive when considering the early-January return.
Superintendent Linda de la Torre said the district considered several factors before arriving at the decision to open on schedule.
“The SMUSD is following all CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and LACDPH (Los Angeles County Department of Public Health) guidelines with fidelity and neither recommended delaying the Jan. 3, 2022, return to school date,” said de la Torre on Monday. “The district offered testing to all students on the Thursday before our return date. We have a high vaccination rate. We have 100% compliance with health and safety protocols at all four schools. We also checked with the LACOE (Los Angeles County Office of Education) Superintendent Debra Duardo, who informed us that 50 of the 80 districts in the county returned from break [Monday]. She also said that the remaining 30 districts were planning to return by Monday of next week and that none of them were considering delaying the return to school date originally planned.”
District administrators joined de la Torre in a virtual meeting with Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer and other county health officials.
“They discussed some changes to K-12 protocols and informed us that while the numbers are expected to get worse before they get better, the intent is to keep schools open,” said de la Torre. “Per AB 130, the state allows distance learning through independent study. Parents have the option of enrolling their children in independent study in lieu of in-person instruction.”
Passed in July 2021, California State Assembly Bill 130 requires school districts to offer independent study as an educational option for the 2021-22 school year.
“Due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, we expect to see the number of positive COVID cases increase over the next few weeks,” de la Torre added. “The good news is that we have higher-than-average vaccination rates among our students and staff and with the health and safety protocols that we have implemented, and the support of our parents and community, we are optimistic about getting through this challenging time together.”
School Board President Nam Jack encouraged and approved of the district’s bold, positive approach.
“The United States Department of Education has urged school districts to remain open for in-person learning,” Jack said Tuesday morning. “It has been and continues to be the San Marino Unified School
District’s paramount goal to do so safely. We are doing all we can to take the necessary safety precautions. …
“The SMUSD will continue to monitor on a daily basis and provide up-to-date communications to our parents and community. We will continue to adhere to implemented health and safety protocols in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Los Angeles County Department of Health guidelines. We are doing our utmost to keep our students and staff safe and healthy.”