About 130,000 LAUSD students absent amid Omicron COVID surge

About one-third of Los Angeles Unified students — approximately 130,000 — have been absent from school during the first days back from winter break, ushering in another chapter of pandemic disruption in the nation’s second-largest school system.

In addition, teachers and employee absences have remained high, so office administrators and substitute teachers have had to staff classrooms. All schools have remained open for in-person learning this week. Incoming Supt. Alberto Carvalho said Friday that the district will continue to send a message to parents that Los Angeles schools are safe.

“They are safe places because of the protective measures that are in place here,” said Carvalho, during an event held to welcome him at Elysian Heights Elementary Arts Magnet in Echo Park. “Parents need to understand that, they need to bring kids to school.”

About half of the student absences are accounted for by those who tested positive for the coronavirus in the week before the start of the term. Others may have tested positive or had symptoms but the information was not uploaded to the district’s health-screening system. There was no estimate regarding how many families are choosing to keep students home out of caution as case numbers remain at record rates due to the Omicron variant.

Carvalho said the issues confronting LAUSD amid surging coronavirus rates are also hitting Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the district he is leaving, causing elevated student absences and squeezing an already tight labor market for teachers and other school employees.

School board President Kelly Gonez said she understood the fear among many parents who aren’t ready to send their children back to in-person learning because of the high number of coronavirus cases.

“Yes, our positivity rates are higher to start the spring semester, but we’re seeing that trend in a positive direction,” Gonez said, referencing a decline in L.A. Unified students testing positive this week.

On Tuesday, when campuses reopened, 17% of students and 15% of LAUSD staff tested positive for the coronavirus, the district said. On Thursday, 15.6% of students tested positive while 13.3% of staff tested positive — still about 10 times the number of cases before winter break. The district operates the largest school coronavirus testing program in the nation, with more than 500,000 mandatory tests administered every week for all students and staff.

Despite the explosion in cases, fewer students who come in contact with an infected person are likely to be sent home to quarantine than in the fall under revised district policies that move toward a “test-to-stay” approach.

Students can remain in school if the exposure occurred at school while students were being supervised. The school also has to be able to verify that both the infected individual and the close contact were wearing masks properly. And the exposure has to occur at a school without an active infection outbreak — which is three or more cases thought to have been transmitted at the school within a 14-day period.

Read More: About 130,000 LAUSD students absent amid Omicron COVID surge

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