Students return to online learning

Coronavirus infections led to the shutdown of the campus in Los Angeles County, the first such closure since school opened in the fall — and a situation that also led to the quarantine of a rival high school football team.

View Park Preparatory High School, an independent charter school authorized by the L.A. Unified School District, has shuttered its campus for the entire week, returning to remote learning out of an abundance of caution, according to the charter’s senior administrator.

School officials became alarmed over the weekend when they received results from Oct. 14 coronavirus testing, which took place the day before a football game against Crenshaw High School: 15 cases among students, including one football player, and one staff case. That was more infections among students than for the rest of the school year combined. There’d been a total of two student cases over the previous three weeks.

But before the results were in, the View Park football team had played against Crenshaw. The Crenshaw players then were directed to enter quarantine, which resulted in the cancellation of another game against Locke High. The school district did not say how long the Crenshaw players had to quarantine.

“Students did not attend football practice this week,” a district spokesman said. “This limited practice time did not allow for adequate preparation for this week’s game. The Crenshaw football team is expected to resume practicing and playing.”

The big picture is that schools throughout L.A. County have stayed open with limited outbreaks largely credited to layers of campus safety measures, according to recent briefings from county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. Early this week, the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom cited research indicating that there have been more than 2,300 school or district closures nationwide, 18 of those in California. The state accounts for less than 1 percent of the national total even though it has about 12 percent of the nation’s public school students.

Still, both the virus and safety precautions have had an impact, resulting in the cancellation of a fair number of local prep football games. Reseda High had to cancel games for two weeks because of a positive case on the team. View Park decided an even more comprehensive response was called for.

“In an abundance of caution, we are in virtual learning this week,” said Parker Hudnut, chief executive officer of Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) Public Schools, which operates View Park and six other charters in LA and Inglewood.

The school already has been deep-cleaned, and students are scheduled to come to campus Thursday to be tested for new or ongoing infections.

“We are also using this time to work with the county to understand if there is anything else we should be doing,” Hudnut said. “To me, it is an example of how insidious COVID can be despite masks, screenings, weekly testing and vaccines for staff.”

ICEF mandated vaccines for employees earlier than L.A. Unified, Hudnut noted, although — unlike L.A. Unified — ICEF does not have a mandate for students. But every option is on the table, the school noted in a weekend communication to parents.

“The infection from any variant of COVID-19 disproportionately affects those that are unvaccinated and the myth that it is an adults’ concern has proven to be farther from the truth as the number of unvaccinated youth who are infected is continuing to rise,” Principal Charles Lemle wrote to parents. “Our position has not been to officially require vaccinations from our students to date, but as we are presented with more scenarios such as this event, data will likely prompt our current policies to evolve.”

The school has 408 students and tries to test all students and staff every week. On Oct. 14, the total number tested was 345.

Other local schools have had larger case clusters, and the county health department said it did not require View Park to close, but the rapid rise in cases was a red flag for administrators. Besides, under the school’s quarantine policy — which also is stricter than the county’s — 300 students would have been sent home as potential close contacts. So, for students and teachers, it was back to live instruction by video.

“Every student currently has a laptop, access to a hotspot, if needed, and uses their computer at home every night,” Hudnut said. “Teachers use their laptops, and we have our built-in video cameras in every ICEF classroom. Therefore, switching from in-person instruction to online instruction is technically not overly complicated. However, the social-emotional toll of returning to virtual learning and feeling like we are never going to be free from this pandemic is the bigger issue.”

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