Nationwide, the start of the 2021-22 school year has been tumultuous. With continued controversy surrounding vaccine and testing mandates, the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) is grappling with how to keep both students and staff safe. Since school began on Aug. 13, four students and one staff member have tested positive for COVID-19, the district confirmed on Aug. 19. “None are epidemiologically linked,” Rebecca Starkins, Director of Public Relations at BHUSD, told the Courier. “We are pleased that our thorough immediate testing schedule has shown that all close contacts are negative.” At the Aug. 17 City Council Study Session, council members pressed BHUSD Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy on how positive cases on campus are addressed, whether the district would require all eligible students and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19, and testing requirements.
Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California would require all teachers and school staff to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. This week, Culver City Unified School District made headlines, becoming the first public school to extend vaccine directives to students. “We are mandating vaccines for all eligible staff and students,” the district announced on Twitter on Aug. 17. “We will begin gathering vaccine status data immediately. The deadline for providing the proof of vaccine is Friday, November 19, 2021, to give everyone the opportunity to make their vaccine plans.”
When asked if an issue would arise if guidelines were imposed that mandated students at the high school be vaccinated to enter a public indoor space, Bregy said: “So, it’s my understanding that that could never be done locally, that would have to be done from the state of California, which would be way out of our hands. But to my understanding, that type of vaccination for students would have to come from the state.” Bregy estimated about 50 percent of the high school population is vaccinated. Right now, there are no COVID-19 testing requirements for students. However, at BHUSD, testing is in place for students that become symptomatic in class.
“Larger school districts like LAUSD will claim that that is occurring, that they’re requiring and mandating COVID-19 testing,” Bregy said at the meeting. “But we know that in the very few school districts that are doing it, that they’re plagued with legal bills and challenges our own attorneys have advised us that at this time, that we would be in a legal quandary if we were requiring students to be able to test in order to attend and participate in school.”
Bregy did indicate though that the district is looking to expand rapid COVID antigen testing for students, beyond those who are symptomatic. Regarding vaccination mandates for staff, Bregy said: “We believe that most of our staff are vaccinated. We are, at this point, as of today, really falling in line with what is required, and that is if somebody is not vaccinated, that they will be tested twice a week. We are not yet at a point where it’s mandated for every single employee.”
Staff that have been vaccinated will still be tested once per week for the virus.
For students who test positive, there is not a one size fits all approach. At the high school level, if a vaccinated student is asymptomatic but tests positive for COVID-19, they can remain at school with a mask and “still be considered to be safe in our schools.” Unvaccinated students who test positive are immediately isolated. “Then it’s a quarantine period,” Bregy said. “We are then providing instructional support for those students. So, it depends on the grade level, it depends on the, the exposure level that they’ve had, and it also depends a lot on if they were on campus or not.”