Silicon Valley school districts are focusing on recovery this school year, while keeping an eye on lingering COVID-19 infections.
Pandemic safety measures, including mask mandates, are being lifted as districts still try to track positive coronavirus infections. Schools are working toward a new normal while also reckoning with the pandemic’s effects on learning.
Schools have followed state guidelines in rolling back mask mandates since March. Vaccinations, including booster shots, have been on the rise for Santa Clara County’s youth 12 years and older, while infants and children under five are now encouraged to get a shot. According to the county’s vaccination dashboard, 57.7 percent of county youth ages 0-17 are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, schools are attempting to address the pandemic’s long-term impacts on student mental health.
Several school districts in the county now have individualized dashboards that track COVID-19 infections, often by campus and week. Some of the school districts where parents and students can find updated information include Alum Rock Union School District, East Side Union High School District, Evergreen School District and Campbell Union High School District. San Jose Unified School District doesn’t have a dashboard.
Miranda Worthen, an epidemiologist and associate public health professor at San Jose State University, said returning school environments to as close to normal as possible is important—but schools should also be aware of COVID’s continued reach, especially for students with immunocompromised family members.
“The layers of protection are shifting now that we have such good access to the vaccines, and we’ve really reduced the severity of COVID infection,” Worthen told San Jose Spotlight. “There are still people in our communities, that we’re all connected to in some way or another, who will still have very serious consequences if they get COVID.”
Masks are encouraged in the Campbell Union High School District this year, but not required, and necessities like hand sanitizer remain available in classrooms, said Superintendent Robert Bravo. The district implemented mask mandates last year, as well as Plexiglass shields and infrastructure improvements like air filtration systems.
“The top-level goal of our policies for this school year (is) to protect the health of students, staff and their families while keeping the educational program in person,” Bravo told San Jose Spotlight.
Campbell Union High School District has had 59 positive COVID infections since the start of the school year earlier this month. More than 8,500 students are enrolled in the district. While the district does not have a vaccine mandate for students, staff are required to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID testing, Bravo said. The district also provides free at-home testing kits to students and employees.
East Side Union High School District no longer requires masks on campus, Superintendent Glenn Vander Zee told San Jose Spotlight. Campuses are cleaned daily, and the district continues to monitor COVID-19 infections through its hotline and dashboard. The district has had a total of 76 positive infections since the start of the school year in early August—26 cases involving staff and 50 among students—in a district that has more than 22,000 students.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted millions of Americans, and our community is not immune to its devastating legacy,” Vander Zee told San Jose Spotlight. “However, we are truly proud of how our families, staff and community at large have come together and positively responded to the challenges of coming back to in-person instruction during and through the pandemic.”
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