PCR testing — long the gold standard for school-related quarantines — is no longer being required as confirmation of an antigen test when an asymptomatic MVLA student wants to return to school five days after a positive COVID test result.

Superintendent Nellie Meyer began her second semester update with the acknowledgment that “a lot of this will sound like déjà vu” as she explained COVID mitigations at the Mountain View Los Altos High School District Board of Trustees meeting Jan. 10.

The presentation, which came on the heels of another COVID surge, covered recently changed district protocols – including new isolation and testing requirements. 

The meeting took place the Monday following a large increase in COVID cases among MVLA students and staff. MVLA reported 111 students and 28 staff with new positive tests for the first school week of 2022. To put that into perspective, only 40 positive cases among students and 12 among staff had been reported from July 2020 through December 2021.

Despite the spike in cases, MVLA officials continue to affirm their commitment to maintaining in-person instruction.

Changes to protocol

Meyer announced that isolation periods for COVID-positive students would be reduced to five days if they test negative on or after day five and symptoms are no longer present. The change aligns with guidance from the county health department.

Testing requirements also have changed to no longer require a PCR test as confirmation of an antigen test.

While the changes were officially unveiled in the board meeting, changes regarding the isolation period and acceptable tests have yet to be reflected on MVLA’s website as of Thursday.

Return to distance learning unlikely

Although MVLA staff cases have risen significantly in the past couple of weeks, MVLA schools have not had any classrooms go without a certificated teacher. Teachers have been able to volunteer planning periods to cover any classrooms in need of an instructor.

Meyer recognized that MVLA is fortunate not to be facing a scenario like other schools in the Bay Area that are confronting extreme staff shortages. The shortages have resulted in “sickout” protests in Oakland and pleas for parents to volunteer to cover staffing positions in Palo Alto.

Meyer addressed questions from the public asking if MVLA would return to virtual learning or a hybrid model in response to the recent surge. She confirmed that MVLA does not currently have the authority to shift to virtual learning. MVLA does offer “Option B,” which offers asynchronous learning for students whose families opt-in to the program.

Returning to districtwide virtual learning would take an amendment to California law and the approval of several parties, including the Santa Clara County Office of Education. This is due to Assembly Bill 130, which could threaten to withhold funding from school districts that do not offer in-person learning.

However, other Bay Area districts like the Hayward Unified School District have faced dire enough staff shortages to switch to virtual learning despite the potential loss of funding. The Milpitas Unified School District also recently attempted to shift to virtual learning until the Santa Clara Office of Education informed MUSD that the decision was not within the district’s authority.

It does not appear that MVLA is in as desperate a position.

MVLA District Teachers’ Association president Dave Campbell said he is grateful for MVLA’s response to the omicron surge.

“It’s hard to hold the district to a higher standard than it is holding itself to,” Campbell said.

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