The Solana Beach School District will require students to wear masks when they are outside on campus, not just indoors.
The district joins San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified School District to take this step beyond California Department of Public Health guidelines in light of the Delta variant and be able to limit quarantine time for students who have been in close contact with a positive case and reduce staff time spent on contact tracing.
When masked on the outside, students are eligible for a modified school quarantine rather than spending eight to 10 days away from school in distance learning.
At a special meeting on August 26, SBSD Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger said the Delta variant has “rewritten the book on COVID” and required this adjustment in its plans.
âOur intention is crystal clear: the health and safety of our students and staff is always the foundation from which we work,â said Brentlinger. âThis year, keeping our schools open and our students in the classroom as much as possible is the second pillar of our work. “
Exterior masking is not a permanent decision for the school year, as the board plans to review the tenure on October 14 and assess the current situation with the virus.
In addition to masking outdoors, the board also approved additional mitigation strategies such as the use of cold plasma technology in school ventilation systems and the suspension of surveillance testing to focus on l Use of testing resources for the bi-weekly testing required to bring students back to school on modified quarantine after exposure to a positive case.
The district will also use seating maps and keep students at bay during lunch hour to further help with contact tracing.
âWe have the # 1 most vulnerable population and it’s our K-6 pediatric students who come together in groups in classrooms and on playgrounds. I have a strong belief in being proactive, âsaid SBSD Vice President Debra Schade in support of the new security measures. âEverything is designed to protect our students, protect our families and staff and keep learning, so that learning takes place in the classroom for an entire year without multiple interruptions. “
SBSD administrator Julie Union acknowledged that exterior masking was a tough decision: âWe represent our community and our community is really divided,â Union said.
Union said she supported it on the condition that it be reassessed in the coming months and that, where possible, students are given mask breaks during daytime outdoor activities.
During the first week of school on August 16, nearly 200 students were quarantined in the Solana Beach district.
Parent Kim Kruk said on the second day of school, she was called to pick up her son from school after a positive case in her class forced the whole class into self-quarantine for 10 days.
âI was shocked,â Kruk said. “Some students had been waiting for over a year and a half to return to class and were needlessly sent home crying after a day.”
Her understanding was that close contacts would be notified but the remaining class would be allowed to remain at the school in modified quarantine – she said this was the protocol followed by neighboring school districts of Del Mar Union, Cardiff and Encinitas Union .
According to Bob Mueller, deputy commander of incidents for the San Diego County Office of Education for COVID-19, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) offers three quarantine options for children exposed in schools. Mueller said the decision trees and advice are “a shipwreck” and “almost indecipherable”; he said it’s understandable that people are confused or even angry.
Depending on the guidelines, students can return from quarantine on day 11 without testing or on day eight with proof of a negative test administered on day 6 or later. The modified school quarantine allows students to stay in school with proof of a negative test administered twice a week, at least three days apart.
Mueller said the modified quarantine is only available when students are masked for all contact within six feet of each other, indoors and outdoors.
During those first two weeks of school, SBSD students were not eligible for school quarantine because they did not wear masks at recess, he said.
The state does not require students or adults to wear masks outside at school. The risk of transmission outdoors is decreased, but Mueller said it is still possible as they have seen many cases with high contact outdoor sports like soccer and soccer.
Prior to the meeting, the district had received a petition signed by 247 parents asking for stricter protocols to ensure student safety, including exterior masking, medical grade masks, increased physical distance while students eat their meals, and snacks, and extra air purifiers with HEPA filters – parents even offered to buy the portable air filters themselves.
Brad Mason, SBSD’s director of installations, maintenance and operations, recommended using cold plasma technology over HRPA filters because air filters are better for small spaces. Instead, cold plasma technology would work system-wide, placed inside ducts and killing up to 99.9% of airborne pathogens. The installation will cost $ 300,000, using available ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding.
The Solana Beach Teachers Association also urged the district to move forward with exterior masking.
âWe believe this will save many hours of academic time and keep students on school sites rather than outside,â said Neva Ayn Megalnick, SBTA co-chair.
The board heard 38 speakers during the public comments, with many parents opposed to more masking and calling for masks to remain optional outdoors: “Please, please, please. please, no masks on the outside for these adorable kids, âread a parent’s written comment.
Eric Hennings, a parent at Solana Ranch, said the board should carefully review contingency plans but not let their decision-making be guided by fear.
“We are tired of voices of fear that plead for school closures, quarantines, mask mandates and limitations on children’s interactions when one, there is no scientific basis for it and two, there is ignore the socio-emotional and educational benefits of our children, “he said.
Solana Vista’s parent Rachel Doyle said while masks are useful indoors, too much masking creates other health problems for children.
“It’s crazy to me that we were considering hiding our children outside when immediately after school a lot of children go straight to soccer, soccer or to dates with other students,” she declared.
She said the main reason for requiring exterior masking appears to be to avoid 8-10 day quarantine procedures, which she says can be inconvenient for families, but it works.
Gohar Gyurijyan, a parent from Solana Highlands, said she understands the need for the district to act quickly and protect children as the Delta variant rises and children are not vaccinated.
âLet’s have a little patience and wait a little. I understand that we want to see smilesâ¦ but we cannot trade lives for smiles, âsaid Gyurijyan. “The actions that each of us take can mean life or death to someone else.”
As the board weighed its decision on outdoor masks, they heard presentations from Mueller and John Bradley, the medical director of infectious diseases at Rady Children’s Hospital.
Since about 65% of children 12 and older have been vaccinated, rates of new infections are declining in this age group. Bradley said pediatric cases in San Diego County are now children aged 6 to 11.
âIf Delta hadn’t turned upâ¦ the whole pandemic would be over,â Bradley said. âDelta is so incredibly contagious that it has not only prolonged the pandemic, but has spread it so deeply. “
In May, Rady had shut down its COVID department because there were so few cases, but by July, as adult cases increased, so did pediatric cases. As of August 24, Rady had 50 cases of COVID so far and August 2021 was the highest month of hospital admissions since December 2020 and the January outbreak.
Bradley said most of the children in the ward are asymptomatic from COVID but come with other illnesses. The sickest children are adolescents, who have some of the same risk factors as adults. Rady currently has eight intensive care cases.
No child in San Diego County has died from COVID-19.
Bradley, also a grandparent of SBSD students, said stricter efforts are warranted to demonstrate that students can return to school safely without creating health risks for other children, teachers, parents, adults. -parents and other relatives at risk.
In her remarks, Administrator Gaylin Allbaugh said she appreciates parents’ passion and advocacy for their children and their willingness to get involved. She said it is important for parents to remember that children are watching and listening.
âI know that my four students are fully aware of how we behave on this topic,â Allbaugh said. “We have a real opportunity here to show our students the respect, civility and grace that live up to our positions as thought leaders in our very, very special community of Solana Beach.”