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Culver City Unified to close next week so all can ‘recoup and recover’ amid Omicron surge

Three people talk to each other in class.
Students talk with their teacher inside a Culver City High School class. The district will close next week as the Omicron surge has stressed resources and staff and students need time to recover.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The Culver City Unified School District, the first K-12 public school system in the nation to issue a coronavirus student vaccination mandate, announced Friday that due to the spike in coronavirus cases, it will close all its schools this week to give students and staff time to “recoup and recover,” the superintendent said.

“Things accelerated too quickly,” Supt. Quoc Tran said in an interview, referring to the surge of coronavirus cases that have overtaxed the district of 7,100 students and 900 employees. By taking a few days off, he said, “everyone will get the chance to be distant from one another, recoup and recover and come back Monday.”

Several other districts in Los Angeles County have delayed the start of the spring semester or shut down schools amid the surge, including Montebello Unified and two schools in San Gabriel.

But the district has been hit hard by the current coronavirus surge. It has recorded 565 positive student cases since August 2020 — and 441 were reported in the last two weeks.

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The district will be closed Monday and Tuesday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and a scheduled instruction-free day. Instead of returning Wednesday, students will stay home for the rest of the week and make up the instructional hours later in the year, Tran said. Students will be sent home with a coronavirus testing kit, and they will need to show a negative test when they return Jan. 24.

The decision comes with support of the school board, staff unions and administrators, Tran said.

Since the school district returned Jan. 3, administrators have been overwhelmed by contact tracing efforts, staffing shortages and difficulties securing medical-grade masks and coronavirus tests. On Wednesday, the district sent a classroom of elementary-age students home after multiple coronavirus cases were identified.

Not all parents are in agreement with the move to close schools.

“My biggest fear is they will keep the schools shut down. This will be a foothold,” said the parent, who requested anonymity for privacy reasons. She said her children’s learning was greatly set back online.

Another parent, Tin Hoang, supported the closures, saying that he feels as if little learning in happening right now anyway because several teachers are missing at the middle and high schools his children attend.

“Both our kids are vaccinated and boosted as well, so I’m not too worried,” Hoang said. “But it seems like it’s a waste of time of school right now ... I think they’d be learning more over Zoom.”

Hoang said he hopes the district at least offers a remote instruction option until the COVID holiday surge subsides.

Tran said he hopes the days off will alleviate fears among families about the surge and give them time to sign up students for regular coronavirus testing offered by the district. There are still hundreds of students who are not signed up.

Ray Long, president of the Culver City Federation of Teachers, said instructors have been struggling to cover absences since the start of the semester. Daily emails from administrators often ask teachers to help cover several classes, and they give up their planning periods.

“They’re feeling very overworked in this scenario, but they’re here because they know this is good for the kids,” Long said. The days off next week will give the district an “opportunity to pause for a few minutes and take these days to get things under control,” he said.

Tran also said the break will also give his district time to prepare for possible teacher departures Jan. 18, the deadline when all staff must be vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.

To date, 4% of staff members remain unvaccinated, or 38 people. And 82% of eligible students ages 12 and older have been vaccinated, according to the district, which last month removed the deadline to focus on safety measures such as masking and coronavirus testing.


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