Superintendent Jeff Baier gave the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees an update on the district’s COVID-19 numbers at its meeting last week, expressing cautious optimism.

According to Baier, Almond, Covington, Gardner Bullis, Loyola and Santa Rita schools had reported one COVID case each among staff and students as of Sept. 16, while Oak Avenue, Springer, Blach Intermediate and Egan Junior High had not reported any.

Pool testing with Concentric began last week, Baier said at the Sept. 20 meeting, a service available for every grade and classroom throughout LASD on an opt-in basis. Pooled testing means each classroom of students’ swabs is tested collectively to identify COVID outbreaks on the respective campuses.

Baier said the district will be promoting participation to families who have yet to sign up – districtwide participation totaled 64% as of last week.

Mask debate

After implementing an outdoor mask mandate for students earlier this month, Baier said there may be room for flexibility.

The outdoor masking requirement is necessary because most students are unvaccinated, he added, and they tend to congregate on crowded playgrounds at recess.

“We are so happy to have them back this year that we want to keep them in school this year,” Baier said of district students.

The board plans to revisit the mask policy after full pooled testing is in place and/or younger students have the option for vaccination. Baier said the outdoor mask mandate could become optional over time, particularly for after-school programs.

At the junior-high level, Baier said the vaccination rate is currently 90%. The junior highs may allow for mask flexibility in PE classes and, like elementary schools, during after-school programs.

Debate continues

LASD parents continued to debate the mask mandate.

Peipei Yu, mother of 8-year-old Quinn, asked trustees to keep the mask mandate in place for both indoors and outdoors.

“I believe our goal should be to keep kids in schools as much as possible, and as safely as possible – and masks do that,” Yu said. “Additionally, kids are used to wearing masks at this point. My kids, my husband and I play all kinds of sports – basketball, field hockey, golf, track and field – with masks on and we’re totally fine.”

Yu said the inconvenience of wearing a mask is a tradeoff that’s worth it to prevent COVID transmission.

“I believe that most families in this district support kids in schools, support safety and support science,” she said. “This is why our schools have done so well throughout the pandemic.”

Yu also asked trustees not to listen to outside political pressure and those attempting to spread COVID conspiracy theories, pointing out that at least one person who spoke during public comment at the meeting did not live in the Los Altos area.

“Don’t listen to the misinformation,” she advised. “Listen to the people in our town, and we have all worked together to keep the schools open. We’ve all worked together to make the schools safe.”

District parent Melissa Smith objected to the mask requirement, citing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health guidance that students and school staff do not need to wear masks outdoors.

“Our students have been running in very hot weather and reporting that it is very hard to breathe and very uncomfortable,” Smith said. “COVID is here to stay and we cannot mask our kids forever.”

Trustees respond

Trustee Bryan Johnson noted that most school districts have outdoor mask mandates similar to LASD’s. However, he favors flexibility.

“If the child is more than 6 feet away from other students, then they can take their mask off for a little while,” he said. “I’m even willing to allow some judgment for PE. If they’re doing something that’s particularly strenuous, and the PE teacher is there and makes sure everyone stays 6 feet apart, I’m comfortable (with students removing their masks).”

Trustee Jessica Speiser said that while she appreciates the desire for kids to make individual masking choices, that approach doesn’t take into account the risk other children experience when someone chooses to go maskless.

“We are trustees for our students, every last student, and we want to make sure that we keep those students safe. I am OK with revisiting this when they are vaccinated; the vaccination is really going to be the key.”

By

Staff Writer

Angela Tam covers local schools as the Town Crier's education reporter.