Learning from quarantine

COVID-19 quarantining procedures leave some students confused

To many students, the first day of school was almost cathartic. Zoom fatigue and waning motivation made distance learning an obstacle in much of students’ daily lives. Despite its positives, the return of in-person learning has left some students concerned about an increased exposure to COVID-19, and others wondering if they are exposed and never notified.

“This is our daily reality. It is everyone’s responsibility to self-screen daily and stay home if they are not feeling well,” principal Anthony Bridi said. “It’s a collective effort to socially distance, mask, and wash with soap frequently.”

According to Bridi, when a student’s COVID-19 case is confirmed and the student is sent home, the first step is to conduct contact tracing, beginning with the student’s first class. Administration will ask the student’s teacher who they sat next to, their proximity to other students and how much movement occurred during the class period. The student will also be asked to identify people they spoke to during snack or lunch.

Once each teacher is consulted and any possibly exposed students are taken note of, each student is spoken to individually and asked for proof of vaccination. People who are fully vaccinated or had tested positive for COVID-19 within the last three months are not required to quarantine, but instead are told to get tested and monitor their symptoms for 14 days. Those who had contact with the bodily fluids of the student, like sharing a water bottle,  or had been within six feet of the student for more than 15 minutes are asked to quarantine. This overrides the vaccination and previous COVID-19 positive test rule.

This is all part of the protocol outlined by the Los Angeles County Department of Health, which is given to Bridi in the form of a diagram that shows many of the situations that would prompt quarantining or close monitoring. As of the Sept. 17 version of this diagram, students who test positive for COVID-19 are placed into two paths for vaccinated and unvaccinated students, which branch outward depending on certain factors such as being asymptomatic (which does not require quarantining). 

“A lot of questions do come about, like ‘Hey, why can’t we do this?’ or ‘How can this go?’ We can’t deviate from the guidelines that are there because we want to remain open and we want to remain as safe as we possibly can,” Bridi said.

Although this process is intricate, Bridi said that there are some questions that may not be answered with a diagram as these exposures are often treated as case-by-case scenarios. 

“It’s hard for it all to be caught on one piece of paper. There’s a lot of what-if scenarios that this might not answer,” Bridi said. “It’s constantly going to change with the ebb and flow of cases not only within our community, but within our state and our nation depending on new variants.” 

A junior who wishes to remain anonymous tested negative for COVID-19 on Aug. 25 and was sent home in his history class. He expressed feeling “confused” by the process as initially he was not told that he was exposed, even as he was leaving school. Through emails from the administration, the student, who was unvaccinated at the time, was told to quarantine for ten days, along with a friend who sat next to him in the same class. His friends who were vaccinated were not asked to quarantine.

“It was all so confusing before they emailed me because I was getting so many mixed signals from my family and what my friends heard [about the quarantining],” he said. “I’m glad my friends didn’t show any symptoms [of COVID-19], but it would have been nice to have some clarity.”

The student felt that the process of receiving schoolwork was mostly “frustrating” in that teachers “didn’t really have a plan” in giving instruction to quarantined students, with his having to initiate much of his learning through emailing teachers for clarification. However, he appreciated how the administration excused his absences without question and extended deadlines for his assignments. Without it, the student said it would have been “way more difficult.”

After experiencing the school’s new COVID-19 protocol this year, he wishes that the administration communicated with him better as he was called to the office.

“As far as I knew, I was just getting pulled out of school, and I had so many thoughts racing through my head like ‘Oh, something bad must have happened,’” he said. “I just wished they would have informed me instead of just my parents and guardians. I think it’s important that the students know what’s going on as well.”

After a complicated and frustrating school year, many students hope to find some semblance of normalcy in the upcoming year. Bridi understands this and wants to establish a safe environment that welcomes the student body with open arms.

“I really enjoyed the beginning of this school year because school is open,” Bridi said. “I think the most important part of us following these guidelines is to keep our doors open so that students continue to learn in-person.”