On Jan. 25, the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) Board of Education held a special COVID-19 Study Session after a host of parents voiced frustration last week regarding mask mandates at school and other safety measures.
The Board evaluated COVID-19 policy options and explored the possibility of pushing back on an outdoor masking protocol mandated by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health). During the meeting, the Board agreed to review the district’s weekly PCR testing, which is not required by Public Health. Board President Mary Wells noted that a follow up Study Session engaging medical experts and teachers would be scheduled for a future date to continue the conversation.
“The dangers posed by those preventative measures greatly outweigh the dangers to our children of infection from COVID,” said Board member Gabriel Halimi. “That’s the bottom line.”
Currently, Public Health requires universal masking with some appropriate type of face covering for both indoor and outdoor settings on the school campus. Exceptions would include when actively eating or drinking and in outdoor settings where physical and non-physical distancing can be reliably maintained. According to the district, Public Health officials deemed it unfeasible for BHUSD students to maintain social distance outdoors at school.
“I don’t know anybody that has pushed that to a point where they have to make a decision about you staying open or not,” BHUSD Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy said regarding remaining in compliance with Public Health orders. “We have just followed the expectations because they said we have to demonstrate that we are following thehealth order, and that if we don’t, we are not going to be able to stay open. Can you push that? Under the direction of the board, we would do that.”
Wells indicated that first, the Board would meet in closed session to assess the situation from a legal standpoint and conduct a cost benefit analysis for the students and staff.
However, the district does have room to adjust their testing policy without violating Public Health. “There is a board policy that has surveillance testing for the entire district once a week,” said Rebecca Starkins, the district’s Director of Public Relations. “That’s not required by LACDPH. It’s highly recommended.”
Currently, BHUSD tests all unvaccinated students once a week, fully vaccinated staff once a week, not fully vaccinated staff twice a week, and a random selection of vaccinated students. According to Starkins, 38 positive cases were found via surveillance testing the week of Jan. 17 and 63 through rapid antigen testing. Rapid antigen testing is available at every school site and the district office every school day between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
The district began the new semester amid record breaking case numbers driven by the omicron variant with over 200 students and 40 staff who tested positive for COVID-19 after a district-wide testing day. However, BHUSD administrators are optimistic that transmission within the district is going down. According to Starkins, there was a 70% reduction in positive COVID-19 cases across all school sites between the first and second week of the new semester. In addition, 20% of BHUSD students informed the district that they’ve had COVID-19 since Dec. 15.
Nonetheless, the district remains cautious. “Just the week before last at Hawthorne, we had two classrooms that were actually closing under the direction of the county because of three epidemiologically linked cases,” Bregy said.
“I think the testing, we can address that immediately and reevaluate where we are on the testing,” Wells said.
“And then with regard to wanting to look at how do we take bolder steps against the county, I think that that’s another conversation for us,” Wells added. “I think it’s going to change. So, we can have another study session, or we can have a closed session if we need to talk about any issues that we need to consider from a legal standpoint first. My suggestion would be that we start with what legal barriers we’re hitting first, as a starting place, just to see what that looks like.”