Back-to-school 2021, with California campuses fully open for 6 million children, was supposed to bring relief — even celebration — for a mostly normal school year ahead. But a surge in the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has reignited parents’ anxiety. For many, the safety and quality of schooling once again feel uncertain and tenuous.
“I wanted to be excited about a new school year, but now I am having to think: ‘Am I putting our health at risk by going to school in person?’” said Irma Villalpando, who has two high school daughters at the Maywood Center for Enriched Studies. “I am feeling very sad because I think that it is going to be another very difficult year.”
Some parents have frantically explored limited online options. And questions over safety protocols are taking on an urgent tone: What happens if someone at my child’s school tests positive? What happens if my child is exposed — will their class be quarantined? Will their school close? Are all teachers vaccinated? What about coronavirus testing?
Recorded cases and hospitalizations are up for children — although without any associated deaths, said county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. Documented cases among children through age 11 increased from 47 to 319 when comparing the two-week period ending June 26 with the two weeks ending July 24, according to county data. For ages 12 to 17, the number of cases rose from 34 to 211. Hospitalizations remained rare, about 1 in 100 cases among those 12 to 17.
Irfan Khan has been a staff photographer with the Los Angeles Times since 1996. He previously served as a freelance photographer for the publication beginning in 1989. Khan started his career as a commercial photographer in 1973 in Pakistan and moved to Dubai in 1977, where he worked for an advertising agency and at a leading English newspaper. Khan’s assignments have taken across Southern California and the U.S. Internationally, he has photographed the Hajj in Saudi Arabia and war zones of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was part of the team awarded the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news for coverage of the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino. In his spare time, he enjoys listening to semi-classical music of the Indian subcontinent and playing cricket on Sundays.
Al Seib was a photographer and videographer for the Los Angeles Times from 1984 to 2022. His photos have won numerous awards from national and international photographer associations. Seib’s work has helped win four Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news reporting awarded to The Times’ staff: the Los Angeles riots in 1993, the Northridge earthquake in 1995, the Southern California wildfires in 2004 and the San Bernardino shootings in 2016.