Unified School District (BHUSD) Board of Education unanimously approved a weekly, on-site COVID-19 testing program for students attending in-person instruction and entering district owned or operated facilities. Effective Oct. 15, unvaccinated students will be tested once a week for COVID-19 and vaccinated students will be tested at random as needed by the district. The policy will be in place until further notice. The Board also voted 4-0 in favor of filling Tristen Walker-Shuman’s vacant seat by appointment, instead of holding a costly special election. Walker-Shuman, former Board of Trustees Vice President, resigned from her seat on Sept. 22 after weeks of controversy surrounding her residency status.
The last board member election held during a regular election, in November of 2020, cost the district approximately $49,875. According to Education Code Section 5091(a)(1), a governing board has 60 days from the date of the vacancy or the filing of a deferred resignation to either make a provisional appointment or order a special election to fill the vacancy, which would be paid for by the district. Eligible candidates must be 18 years of age and a citizen of the state; a registered voter; a resident of the school district; not an employee of the school district (or the employee must resign before taking office) and not otherwise disqualified from holding office. While there is no specific process identified in the law concerning how potential candidates should be vetted, Board Bylaw 9223 states: “The Board shall accept nominations for Board membership at a public meeting and shall select the provisional appointee from among these nominees by a majority vote.”
“I have no one in mind, and I’m going to be very open minded when it comes to selecting a new person,” BHUSD Board President Rachelle Marcus told the Courier. “I’m looking for someone that comes in with some knowledge of the school district, so that they can fill in very quickly, someone who is able to make independent decisions, and someone who can work well with all the members of the school board. They don’t have to agree with them, but they have to be able to work with them.” The appointed candidate will serve for the rest of Walker-Shuman’s term, which expires Nov. 8, 2022. According to Marcus, this will be the fourth provisional appointment the Board will make. The district is expected to solicit candidate applications by advertising in local media as early as next week. A provisional appointment can be rejected with a petition signed by 1.5 %of registered voters in Beverly Hills.
The issue of Walker-Shuman’s residency surfaced after an anonymous complaint sent on Aug. 26 alleged that Walker-Shuman had moved from Beverly Hills to Pittsburgh in August, thus disqualifying her from the position.
Regarding Walker-Shuman’s resignation, Board member Noah Margo said, “I look to our community now and ask what we can learn from this unfortunate situation, whether you agree or not, with the events that led to our current vacancy.”
Margo continued, adding, “Based on the true evidence, what happened here isn’t a good thing. As part of our reflection and analysis, it’s important to consider the motivations that led here. Why would certain community members work so hard to disrupt a school board that has voted unanimously 99 percent of the time? Who ultimately stands to gain from disrupting your united school board in a time of pandemic and educational progress? I can only speculate as to the answers to these important questions.”
Last week, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health (Public Health) released updated guidance that gives school districts the option to allow unvaccinated students who have come into contact with a positive COVID-19 case to continue attending in-person classes under a modified quarantine (MQ). In order to qualify, the following criteria must be agreed on: the exposure took place in a school setting, supervised by school staff; the exposed student and the person with a COVID-19 diagnosis both wore a mask consistently and correctly during the entire exposure period, including outdoor exposures; they must test twice weekly during MQ; they will have a visual identifier, such as a sticker or wristband to notify staff of their MQ status; they can only participate in regular school curriculum/instruction provided during school hours and no after-hours sports or activities; they must wear a mask at all times, indoors and outdoors; and they must eat and drink six feet away from other students. Under the new guidelines, the district will allow unvaccinated students who have been exposed to another student positive with COVID-19 as a close contact to immediately return if they’re eligible through a modified quarantine.
“That is the most significant shift in all of the LA County Department of Public Health protocols in the last 18 months,” BHUSD Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy said. “Having students that have been exposed to the virus, who obviously have a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19 than students that do not, and allowing these students back onto our campus, raises the responsibility for all of our staff to ensure that these rules are followed for those families that choose this brand-new modified quarantine option.”
Those who don’t feel comfortable adhering the requirements do not have to participate in MQ. According to Bregy, as of Sept. 24, 16 out of the 79 school districts in Los Angeles County, including BHUSD, have adopted the option of a modified quarantine. “So far, we have not had any families say no to modified quarantine,” Bregy added. As of Sept. 29, there are seven positive active cases of COVID-19 among students and two among staff.
“I advocate for any decision that we can make that would protect not only students’ health first, but keeping schools open as well,” Margo said. “I think that that is mandatory in keeping people mentally healthy during this pandemic, making sure that school is still an option.”
Regarding the new testing policy for students, Bregy said, “As the pandemic continues, we need to continue the layers of protection that we have for our students.” While details about what types of PCR tests being offered have not been released, Marcus told the Courier there will be “options.”
The next BHUSD Board of Education meeting will be held virtually on Oct. 12 at 5 p.m.