First published in the Jan. 22 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
While other school districts are struggling to stay open — let alone keep students in classrooms — amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Glendale Unified reported a slight bump in attendance this week.
Superintendent Vivian Ekchian informed the Board of Education during a meeting Tuesday that attendance was 88.4% — nearly a four-percentage-point bump from the previous week — with about 4.3% of students enrolled in independent study. Attendance figures among teachers also improved.
The Glendale Unified School District required students and employees to submit a negative coronavirus test prior to returning on Jan. 10 that was either administered at one of the testing clinics or home with a rapid test kit provided by GUSD.
According to Ekchian, the district administered 27,346 tests between Jan. 3-14 and recorded a positivity rate of 9.7% from Jan. 10-14. (The figure does not include results from the home kits.)
“If you add up the numbers, you will see that within the positivity rate and the students in attendance in seats and those that are in independent study, we pretty much know where all of our students are and are accounted for,” she said.
The district’s COVID-19 dashboard indicates that there were 273 confirmed cases among students and 39 employees testing positive between Jan. 10-18. There are 24,342 pupils and 2,930 onsite employees in the GUSD.
While some districts such as Montebello and Culver City had to delay their return from break, Glendale managed to remain on schedule without major hiccups, and Ekchian credits families for participating in the voluntary testing administered at school sites as well as submitting results from at-home kits timely.
“The reality is the trust we have in our community — we have seen evidence of it by the increased number of students being sent to schools than any other neighboring district that I’m aware of.
“At the end of the day, the data that we have of just those that tested with us […] speaks to the fact that everyone is taking [the situation] seriously.”
However, a few community members were critical of the district for how it handled testing prior to its reopening of campus for in-person instruction. Some families reportedly waited more than two hours at testing clinics and some did not trust others in being truthful when submitting results from at-home kits.
Ekchian was regretful of the long lines but said that the issue wasn’t exclusive to GUSD and testing lines were just as long at hospitals and urgent care. She also defended the decision in trusting families to submit their own results, reiterating that it was a recommendation from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“Self-attestation works,” she said. “I don’t think Public Health comes up with these guidelines out of nowhere. There’s quite a bit of evidence that when you trust the community, they come forward.”
Board Vice President Nayiri Nahabedian commended the work from district employees during these difficult times and Ekchian’s cautious approach toward returning from the winter break.
“It is really important to step back and remember that two years ago we were not dealing with any of this,” she said. “And so, within these two years, every single one of our staff members who had their regular duties have now also had to have this additional set of responsibilities.”
Board President Shant Sahakian advised district staff to plan ahead of future vacation periods, especially spring break, and asked community members for their help during these trying times.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat it; we’re in a very challenging period still and we have a challenging road ahead,” he said. “It’s going to take all hands on deck to get us through it, but I’m grateful our students are on campus with such high attendance and our goal is to keep it that way.”