January 26, 2022
Health and Safety Edition
As we all anticipated, the pandemic surge is definitely making an impact on our school district and community. In talking with the other superintendents in the county, every district is experiencing similar impacts. We have created this special edition to provide our community with the facts about how the current surge is affecting our school district. It is important to note, however, that in spite of the current surge, our teachers, students, and staff continue to keep learning the central focus at school. I visited ten schools last week to check-in on student learning, listen to teachers and staff, and develop creative solutions with principals. I can say without hesitation that students were engaged, happy, and actively learning.
In addition to this Health and Safety Community Update, we will also be holding a virtual Special Board meeting this week, Thursday, January 27th at 5:00 p.m. to provide a more detailed update on health and safety. Please visit the Live Streaming link HERE to join the meeting.
Status of COVID-19
COVID-19 continues to impact the Vista Community and our schools. This past week saw the highest number of reported cases since we began tracing positive cases in the fall of 2020. Our district dashboard provides a breakdown of cases by school. Keep in mind that our dashboard only reports positive cases identified while students and staff are in the school environments. The dashboard is updated daily. The graph below provides a quick view of the positive cases over the past five months, as of January 21st. We are in constant communication with the county health team to ensure that we are doing all we can to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our schools. With that said, Vista Unified remains committed to keeping our schools safe places of learning.
We have experienced staffing shortages for both certificated and classified staff. Regular absences due to illnesses, personal necessity, and general leaves of absences still occur. However, COVID-19 related absences have significantly increased following the Thanksgiving and winter breaks.
The total number of staff absences for both classified and certificated employees have increased from 216 in September of 2021 to 368 following the winter break. On January 14th, there were a total of 368 staff absent from their positions, with 227 of those due to COVID-related symptoms, exposures or COVID positives. Many of our employees are participating in COVID-19 testing in order to return to work as soon as possible.
During this time, we are utilizing all available credentialed staff and substitute teachers to ensure our students continue in-person learning. Thanks to our state and federal COVID relief funding, our district has more than forty itinerant teachers that provide academic support throughout the year that are currently providing substitute teaching support. Site and district level administrators are also providing classroom teaching support as needed.
We are experiencing significant staffing challenges in transportation, custodial support, and special education instructional assistant support; however, our teams have been able to rally together to develop solutions to keep our services going. As we mentioned before, there may be some interruptions in services, but these interruptions should be temporary.
CDPH Group Tracing Implementation
As a result of significant changes to the COVID-19 Decision Trees for K-12 Schools, schools are now able to contact trace using a Group Tracing approach. Now, when exposed in a school setting, unvaccinated students are not required to quarantine if exposed to a COVID-19 positive person. Instead, a letter of exposure is sent to the families of exposed students, and, as a condition to remain in school, students should test on days three, four, or five (“required” just shifted to “should” on the Decision Tree). Parents are required to notify the school if their student becomes symptomatic or tests positive for the virus.
Keep in mind that the pandemic is a dynamic environment that requires us to make adjustments often based on guidance from CDPH and our local health authority. While we know these adjustments can be complex and even confusing, we are excited that more students are remaining in school and receiving in-person instruction from their teachers. As a condition of these new guidelines, CDPH requires that an exposure letter be sent each time a student is exposed. We acknowledge that receiving multiple letters in a week may be a frustration for many families; however, in the spirit of transparency, we want to ensure that families and staff are fully informed.
Having a student tested weekly for the COVID-19 virus is a simple way to avoid the need to test on days three to five when they are exposed at school. We have created testing centers throughout our community to assist families with COVID-19 testing for their students and other family members. We are happy to announce that a plan is being developed to bring COVID-19 testing directly to each of our 29 schools. More information will be shared in the coming weeks on how a family can sign up their student for weekly testing.
New Mask-Wearing Recommendations
Dr. Howard Taras of UC-San Diego School of Medicine recently shared updated information with the educational community reporting that cloth masks are no longer recommended as the best way to protect against the Omnicron Variant. Many experts now recommend three-ply surgical masks with a nose wire as a better option for both children and adults. Equally good, especially if a surgical mask has gaps and does not fit snugly on the sides, is to double up by wearing the three-ply surgical mask under a cloth mask.
The most protective masks are N95. The second most protective masks are KN95 from China and KF94 from Korea. The CDC’s website is a great resource for determining which mask is best for students and adults. Vista Unified has received a shipment of adult size N95 masks for adults and older students. We are awaiting an order placed for child-size N95 masks for younger students. In addition, all school sites have a large supply of three-ply surgical masks available. Please follow your school’s procedure to request a mask free of charge.
In closing, I would like to thank you for your continued patience, grace, and flexibility as we work together to keep students at the center of our collective efforts in Vista Unified.
Matt Doyle, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Vista Unified School District