A month into the 2021-22 school year and the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) has reported 44 cases of COVID-19. Forty-two students across 15 schools tested positive for the virus, along with two teachers. However, the district considers a viral “outbreak” to be three or more cases related to each other.
Last month, Bay Area health officials reaffirmed their support for in-person learning, despite the rise of the more contagious Delta variant, which has impacted children more than the virus’s original Alpha strain.
“We know that when rates of COVID are high in our communities, cases will appear at schools, just as they do in other settings,” health officials said in a joint statement. “However, with effective protocols in place –– including universal indoor masking, vaccinations of eligible persons, testing, good hand hygiene, staying home when sick, and proper ventilation –– the data shows that these multiple layers of defense can stop the spread of COVID in school settings.”
Last week, the San Francisco Department of Public Health announced that its contract tracers determined that all COVID-19 cases in children were linked to transmission that occurred outside of school. Similarly, San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD), which has 30,500 students and employees, also reported a low number of cases, with 41 positive cases in the first 22 days of the school year.
Parents who spoke to The Beat said they felt that MUSD has done comparably well to neighboring school districts –– especially since the district provides weekly COVID-19 testing kits.
Devi Sreepada, whose 2nd- and 6th-graders go to Curtner Elementary School, said she decided to send her children back to in-person school mainly because they were so excited to go back.
“A week or two before school reopened, they actually did practice runs by getting up at 6:30 am and timing their brushing, their baths, [and] their breakfast,” she said of her kids. “They would make me pack their food and eat lunch the way they were at school. That showed how much they were missing their day-to-day interactions with the teachers and other students.”
Even though Sreepada’s oldest child thrived in online learning last year, she felt that the virtual option was not a fit for her family since her daughter could potentially be disconnected from Curtner.
At the Aug. 24 board meeting, MUSD Superintendent Cheryl Jordan said that 444 students were enrolled in the Virtual Pathways Program, with 43 students on the waiting list due to staffing problems. She acknowledged that the program had been experiencing some “challenges.”
Under a state law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this summer, school districts are required to place students back in the classroom within five days of a request to do so. But if a spot at a student’s home school isn’t available, they’ll be placed elsewhere.
Sreepada wishes her kids’ school had a hybrid program that would allow students to attend class remotely at their home school. When asked if the district had considered implementing such a program, spokesperson Scott Forstner told The Beat that the “Virtual Pathway Program is a program within itself.”
Like many parents, Srabasti Gupta felt that online learning last year was “brutal” –– especially seeing her youngest child start kindergarten at Curtner from a laptop.
“All of a sudden, my child was starting kindergarten right next to me on a laptop and expected to behave on a laptop, expected to get the questions right on the laptop, so I felt like a half-teacher in that case,” she said. “For him, I felt like he never got the stimulation a child gets in school.”
Gupta’s two oldest children are in 8th and 10th grade and attend Thomas Russell Middle School and Milpitas High School, respectively.
“This year, I do see a drastic difference in their happiness and upliftment,” she said of her older children. “Both of them are vaccinated, so we feel more at ease sending them to school, and then they are both really happy meeting their friends to the point that they want to walk home. They don’t want us to pick them up.”
Gupta said she does wish that Milpitas would have more of a staggered schedule to allow for social distancing in the classroom. However, the longtime MUSD parent said she recognizes that it would have to come from the “top down.” Forstner further confirmed this, stating that they “must offer full in-person instruction to all of our students as mandated by the state.”
According to Jordan, as of the Aug. 24 board meeting, 50 percent of district employees had uploaded their vaccination status. However, the number of vaccinated staff is estimated to be much higher as in June 88 percent of employees self-reported that they’d been vaccinated.
According to the latest data from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, which was last updated Sept. 10, the county has had 22,210 cases of COVID-19 in children 17 and under since the start of the pandemic. Forty-two percent of those cases have been in school-age children ages 4 to 11 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.