Getting Kids Safely Back to Learning
By Dianne Anderson
Kids headed back to school this week with the priority on safe learning as Omicron – or its latest variant “flurona,” COVID-19 plus the flu – becomes the new normal.
Health experts are warning of the alarming rate of infection that is putting the little kids in danger.
Children under four years old now make up the fastest growing hospitalizations because they are not eligible to receive the vaccine.
A recent CDC COVID-19 update looked at over 250 acute care hospitals in 14 states, showing that while children still have the lowest rate of hospitalizations of any group, pediatric hospitalizations have hit their highest point in the pandemic.
Nationally, about half of all children 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, but only 16% of kids five through 11 are fully vaccinated.
“Sadly, we are seeing the rates of hospitalizations increasing for children zero to four, children who are not yet currently eligible for COVID 19 vaccination. We are still learning more about the severity of Omicron in children, and whether these increases we are seeing in hospitalization reflect a greater burden of disease in the community or the lower rates of vaccination for these children under age 18,” the CDC said in its recent briefing.
Danny Tillman said that while the nation isn’t seeing the severe health impact as when COVID-19 and Delta first hit, there are concerns around the recent surge and increased hospitalizations.
Right now, he said “the situation is fluid,” meaning that the school district is giving parents as many options as possible. But he emphasized that they also continue their virtual learning academy if parents aren’t comfortable with sending their kids to school.
Tillman, vice president of the school board, has been on the board for 27 years. He said that many other school districts have shut down their online academies, and he said he also feels the priority should be getting kids back to on-site schooling.
However, he stressed that the district remains very responsive to giving parents a choice.
“Some parents are rightfully concerned about their kids. On the other hand, I really feel that a majority of my kids are going to benefit from being on-site,” he said. “The good thing about our district is a majority of our teachers and employees went out and got vaccinated.”
He encourages everyone that can receive the vaccine to get the shot, and check out www.sbcovid-19.com. Yet, he has heard some valid reasons of cases where some may have rare or severe medical conditions that could be adversely impacted by the shot, although those cases are few and far between.
Making sure that as many people as possible get vaccinated is key because those who have been vaccinated are not getting very sick.
“When you look at statistics people that are vaccinated don’t get gravely ill or die. The rate of severe illness is a lot smaller,” he said.
But the unvaccinated are driving up hospitalizations, and health experts are urging adults to get the vaccine to protect the children.
Ashley Bettas-Alcala, SBTA President, said the SBTA is advocating that the district implement everything possible to keep both educators and students safe.
They are also collaborating on COVID safety protocols, including the district’s distribution of N 95 masks to staff, air purifiers in classrooms and offices, she said. There are COVID liaisons at every site to test and provide a rapid response to any health concerns.
“We acknowledge that the omicron variant has impacted our students and their families. We urge the district to continue to stay vigilant and to respond to rising case numbers and cluster outbreaks, which could include closing a classroom or school if necessary,” she said.
Even before COVID, she said the district had experienced high teacher turnover, but they are continuing to address issues of salary, benefits and working and safety conditions that attract and retain high quality teachers.
She said that students deserve the highest quality education and they will will continue to work toward the safest outcomes for the students amid this global pandemic.
“While we feel the challenges that the impact of COVID has brought to many districts, we have worked collaboratively with the district to ensure a certificated teacher in every classroom. SBTA has been this community’s partner in education since 1958,” she said.
In his recent COVID-19 update to families, Superintendent Doc Ervin stated that the data shows infection rates are lower than this time last year, and there is a detailed plan in motion that has made SBCUSD a model for managing coronavirus in public schools.
“Despite being California’s seventh-largest school district, we have avoided classroom and school closures experienced by many surrounding districts. In other words, we have contained COVID in our schools, keeping our students, staff and community safe,” he wrote, noting that he has a student that attends elementary school in the district.
Layers of safety protocols are in place, including high grade air filters and purifiers in all classrooms, he added. They also continue mandatory face coverings for everyone indoors, and have comprehensive cleaning and disinfection practices.
“We have found that people—not temperature kiosks or physical-distancing markers—play the most vital role in helping us keep COVID-19 away from our schools. The COVID-19 liaison program that our families have come to know and trust, which places medically supervised personnel in every SBCUSD school and is the only one of its kind in the Inland region, will kick off again Monday when students and staff return,” he said.
To see the rate of COVID-19 infections at schools, along with resources, see https://sbcusd.com/
To get tested, or vaccinated, see www.sbcovid-19.com