Bay Area parents fume as schools send healthy kids home after COVID exposure

Viviane Safrins' Son Goes Nuts During Stupid Quarrantine

Parents say kids are needlessly quarantined at home

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - September 03: After doing his class work and reading a Harry Potter book, Viviane Safrin’s son Levi, 8, was looking for things to do at home on Sept. 3, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. Levi settles on putting together a space puzzle. Someone in Levi's class tested positive for COVID-19, and now the whole class has been sent home to quarantine. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
September 4, 2021

Viviane Safrin’s third-grade son, Levi, spent much of what should have been a school day Friday morning at home putting together a space puzzle and bouncing on the couch. Dan Lee took his restless son, Yaichiro, who’s in Levi’s class, out to San Francisco’s Stow Lake.

Where the boys really wanted to be was their classroom at San Francisco Unified’s Clarendon Elementary, where their teacher is said to be fantastic. But their parents said the school sent the whole class home to quarantine Thursday after someone tested positive for COVID-19, even with no sign of illness.
Viviane Safrin’s son Levi, 8, plays on the couch while at home on Sept. 3, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

Similar tales are surfacing around the Bay Area and throughout the state this fall as the virus’s highly contagious delta variant [BS - Save El Sobrante] complicates California’s return to school after a year of subpar online “distance learning.” Parents complain schools are needlessly quarantining healthy kids and compounding their educational and emotional harm from the pandemic.

“My child has been crying all afternoon because all he wants to do is go to school, and now we’re in an educational desert because the teacher is not allowed to pivot to distance learning,” Safrin said Thursday after getting the news. “The level of learning loss will continue, and for what? This is not what the science tells us is necessary.”

Parents who spent the spring battling public school boards in a state that trailed the country in returning kids to classrooms fear California is falling back on its promise to keep them there this fall. And despite the shortcomings of distance learning, which the state canceled over the summer, they say there’s no clear fallback for kids who have to quarantine at home.

“There’s no Plan B, no distance learning provision,” Lee said.

California Department of Public Health school guidance calls for a 10-day quarantine of unvaccinated “close contacts” of a person who tests positive for COVID-19 if they were within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. The unvaccinated include kids younger than 12 who are too young for the shots.

Viviane Safrin’s son Levi, 8, reads a Harry Potter book while at home on Sept. 3, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

An exposed child can return to school after 10 days if they remain free of symptoms, or after seven days following a negative test result taken five days into the quarantine.

But the rules also allow that if the infected and exposed had both worn face masks, the exposed student may continue coming to class in a “modified quarantine” without sports and other extracurricular activities if tests taken twice weekly remain negative.

But that isn’t happening in many places, including San Francisco Unified, despite a host of other measures aimed at keeping the virus in check. In keeping with state rules, everyone must wear masks inside San Francisco schools, which offer COVID-19 testing five days a week. The district bought more than 3,000 portable air cleaners to ventilate classrooms, where windows and doors often are kept open, and rapidly built and expanded online learning options due to increased demand.

Still, Laura Dudnick, San Francisco Unified’s public relations manager, said that “until we’re confident in our systems to do modified quarantine, we’re not implementing modified quarantine.”

“We are continuously creating new systems that require staffing, technology, labor agreements, communications, and more,” Dudnick said, “and modified quarantine is a system we would only want to implement if we could do so with all of the checks in place to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”
Viviane Safrin watches over her son Levi, 8, as he does his math work while at home on Sept. 3, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif.

It’s hardly the only district where this has been an issue.

Jonathan Zachreson, a Roseville father and founder of the Reopen California Schools parent group that is suing the state over its school pandemic rules, said the same is happening at his area schools and that state officials need to step in.

“I hear from distraught parents almost daily,” Zachreson said. “California is heading for another education crisis if we don’t get these excessive and unnecessary quarantines of healthy children under control.”

Last week, frightened and tearful sixth-graders were sent home over exposure to COVID-19 at San Ramon Valley Unified’s Charlotte Wood Middle School, which lists just three cases among its nearly 1,000 students and staff.

Albany Middle School recently ordered the quarantine of all unvaccinated kids in affected classes after a second confirmed COVID-19 case in a week.

“I think it’s ridiculous that my child’s middle school is requiring healthy children to quarantine,” said one student’s mother, who did not want to be identified because she said “a neighbor has shamed me and my children because my children do not wear masks outdoors while they play.”

Jolanka Nickerman, whose daughters attend Albany schools, said the district is resorting to quarantines as they grapple with staffing and testing shortages with little state support.
COVID-19 rapid test kits for Viviane Safrin’s son Levi, 8, and for one of his siblings sit on the kitchen counter on Sept. 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. The tests came back negative. Someone in Levi’s class tested positive for COVID-19, and now the whole class has been sent home to quarantine. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

Albany Unified Superintendent Frank Wells said the decision was out of “an abundance of caution,” as testing capacity wasn’t sufficient for modified quarantine, and he feared more widespread measures would be needed if infections spread.

“This is new to all of us,” Wells said. “We’re learning as we go.”

In Sonoma County’s Windsor Unified, the entire sixth-grade class at the Cali Calmecac Language Academy school was quarantined Aug. 23 after a confirmed infection, with kids just returning to the classroom this week.

“It blew my mind that they’re sending everybody home, especially kids who don’t have any symptoms,” said Daniel Bryant, whose 11-year-old daughter Alexis was among the students who were quarantined, which required him to take time away from his cybersecurity job to be home with her.

But Superintendent Jeremy Decker said they had no choice. Because the exposed students weren’t able to provide adequate information to county health authorities about who they had spent lunch and recess with, unmasked, the district was told the entire class had to be quarantined.