L.A. back-to-school COVID health checks going better Tuesday

L.A. back-to-school COVID health checks going better Tuesday

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The second day of school in the Los Angeles Unified School District appears to be going more smoothly than the first, largely devoid of the long lines and frustrations that marred back-to-school Monday when the district’s student health-check system failed.

Parents and students at a sampling of campuses throughout the nation’s second-largest school system said the Daily Pass website — designed to issue pre-approved health clearances for students to enter campus — appeared to be up and working. In addition, school administrators, who hastily organized work-arounds for the system, were better able to speed up campus access Tuesday.

At schools in North Hollywood, South Gate, Boyle Heights, East L.A. and Los Feliz, students were shuttled into class with minimal delay, a notable and welcome contrast to Monday when frustrated parents and students stood in long lines, frequently for well over an hour.

It was a night and day scenario at John Marshall High on Tuesday morning compared with Monday, when some students missed first period as they waited to be checked in. No line wrapped around the building as students moved quickly into the school. Friends waited for each other before jumping into line at the Los Feliz campus.

“The district’s system didn’t shut down today. We were prepared either way,” said Principal Gary Garcia, who told students to take a screenshot of their pass before coming to school instead of relying on the website to load once on campus. ”I think by tomorrow we’ll have everyone in by 8:00.”

As part of the school district safety protocols, students or parents are supposed to log on to the Daily Pass website every morning before school starts to receive a pass. The software asks whether students have a cough, fever, fatigue or other symptoms of illness that could indicate a coronavirus infection. If students say they are feeling well, with no symptoms of illness, the system issues a pass with a scannable code for that day. The pass can be printed out at home or scanned at the entrance to the school, much like an event ticket.

The computer-generated pass is not mandatory — those without it can answer screening questions on the spot — but it is meant to save time and replace hundreds of on-site student interactions with staff members. On Monday it was overloaded and lines backed up.

Veronica Cardona, whose children attend Graham Elementary School near South Gate, didn’t want to risk another delay and stayed up until midnight to print out paper copies of the Daily Pass for her kindergartener, second- and fourth-grader. On Monday, she spent 40 minutes trying to check them in after the system would not load.

“I didn’t want to have that problem today,” Cardona said after dropping off her children. But the process Tuesday was smooth — she was in and out in five minutes and the lines moved quickly. Parents stuck around, waving to their little ones through the fence.

In Boyle Heights, an all-hands-on-deck approach seemed to make the greatest difference between Day 2 and Day 1 lines.

At Hollenbeck Middle School, Principal Elsa Bolado had opened up four entrances that were fully staffed by 7 a.m., an hour ahead of the start of class.

“The good problem is we had tons of kids,” Bolado said of Monday’s long lines. “That’s a really good problem to have. And so I brought out more people today. All the people power we have, we’re bringing it out… The community was so patient with us. I’m so grateful to them.”

The QR code to open the Daily Pass site was displayed prominently along the fence and some students were using it to open up the website. But it didn’t seem to matter that much to a staffer in a Panama hat, who asked everyone how they were feeling regardless. Everyone in line said they were fine. The staffer also had to check their names against a list of students who were permitted to enter.

Things also were moving fairly quickly at adjacent Roosevelt High, although not everyone was processed by the time first period started at 8:30 a.m. Here, the gatekeepers strongly emphasized the Daily Pass, sending students to what was, in effect, an express line — if they had their pass pulled up and ready to go.

Students without a Daily Pass had to stand in a slower line so they could be looked up on a computer. One student ended up in this line because, even though he had his Daily Pass, the checker could not read it because his screen was cracked and looked “like a snowflake,” as one person put it.

On Day 1, the line at Roosevelt had wrapped around the street corner. By Day 2, the lines were contained within the campus. And though the lines briefly got long, they moved quickly.

On Monday, students at Roosevelt also had been introduced to another regular COVID-safety feature: weekly testing of all students and staff. To take part, however, students needed parental consent and not everyone had it. Those without it were denied testing Monday and then denied entry to the campus Tuesday.

But there was a workaround for those students who arrived with a consent form Tuesday. They were directed to the gym for a quick-response coronavirus test. It wasn’t clear what would happen with students who arrived without these forms, even if they’d already provided baseline test results before the start of the school year.

Day 2 was a lot easier for Andrea Mcclelland, whose son is entering ninth grade. On Monday, she’d arrived at Roosevelt at 7 a.m. and did not leave until about 10 a.m. She had taken her son for a coronavirus test at a nearby medical center but could not find the paperwork. She ultimately had to take him for another test Monday at Roosevelt.

On Tuesday, her son essentially walked right in. Mcclelland said she trusts the Roosevelt staff to run a safe school, but she has not been vaccinated and there’s a 72-year-old in her household.

“I wanted him to stay at home online,” Mcclelland said. “He just begged me: I want to go back to school.”

So far so good.

“He told me he found his classes OK,” she said. “He made a friend real fast and he’s fine. He felt good about coming to school. He wasn’t scared or anything.”

But Mcclelland was worried about her son’s description of how closely students are sitting together in class. She’s been praying, “and once I walk home, I’m going to pray again.”

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About Emma Gorki

Emma Gorki

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