During a special emergency meeting on Wednesday, Yuba City Unified School District board members voted to close Butte Vista Elementary School temporarily starting on Friday due to a high number of positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff.
Butte Vista Elementary School will close effective on Friday and resume in-person on Wednesday. There will be no distance learning for students on Friday and Tuesday. Monday is a holiday day in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Students and staff will be expected to undergo testing prior to their return to school.
A letter was sent to families and parents on Wednesday night by Doreen Osumi, superintendent of YCUSD, regarding the board’s decision to temporarily close Butte Vista Elementary School on Friday and Tuesday.
The letter stated: “After consulting with the Bi-County Health Officer, the District has determined that the rate of COVID infections at Butte Vista Elementary School are escalating and warrant a temporary school closure … It is clear from the information available to the Bi-County Health Office that COVID-19 cases at Butte Vista are not declining, but rather are escalating. Continuing to conduct in-person instruction in this environment not only poses a great risk of exposure to students, and families, it would cause great disruption to the education program at the school as absences of both students and staff continue to climb.”
According to Osumi, Butte Vista Elementary School had 15 positive COVID-19 cases on Monday, nine cases on Tuesday and up to 20 positive cases on Wednesday. During the meeting, YCUSD shared that 64 percent of classes K-5 at Butte Vista Elementary School were on modified quarantine, meaning students who had close contact with other student(s) who tested positive for COVID-19 but were wearing a mask in the school setting, could continue attending in-person instruction if they were asymptomatic, continued wearing a mask, underwent testing twice a week and continued to quarantine for extracurricular activities.
Due to the escalating number of positive COVID-19 cases at Butte Vista Elementary School, the local county health department recommended to YCUSD that a closure at the school would be needed. According to Osumi, in a conversation with Bi-County Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu and Butte Vista Elementary School Principal Jaswinder Peterson, a potential short-term closure on Friday with a return date on Jan. 24, with distance learning and testing on Jan. 23 for students and staff was discussed. The floor was then opened to public members who wanted to make comments.
“I’m a parent of two Butte Vista students. I’m extremely concerned with the direction the district is proposing right now. We’re making the same reaction to the current spread of COVID that we were dealing with essentially two years ago, and we’re dealing with a completely different disease. Ultimately, the children are very well protected from COVID. The symptoms in children are so minuscule they barely hit the register on impact to those kids. The talk of even mentioning going back to distance learning is beyond frustrating,” said one self-identified parent during the meeting.
Other concerned parents who also commented thanked board members for considering closing the schools for the safety of the children and to allow transmission levels in schools to decrease.
“I fully 100 percent back the board if you decide to move Butte Vista to distance learning. I currently have a kid at home with COVID who contracted in one of two places at school or outside while he had his mask on. There’s a highly transmissible variant … what worries me is kids bringing home COVID to family members who can’t handle it the same way kids can. I’m immunocompromised and it concerns me,” a self-identified parent said.
Individuals who identified themselves as staff members at Butte Vista Elementary School also spoke during the meeting to express the “war zone” the school is in with a high number of staff out as students increasingly get infected with the disease.
“I’m actually a teacher at Butte Vista, and so I do want to reiterate: We do want our students in class as much as humanly possible, but we also do need to understand that our student safety has to be a priority. As far as staff and teacher shortages, if anybody had stepped into what our office staff and what our teachers have been doing these last three days and amidst all of this, it resembles more like a war room in a movie. It’s constant phones ringing, it’s staff members out. It’s people going above and beyond what they are called to do. I mean, these are not medical practitioners, and yet they’re having to be. We really don’t have the staff to keep this up,” the individual said.
During the meeting, a pressing concern on the absence of staff was shared. According to Michael Reed, assistant superintendent of human resources at YCUSD, the district is only filling substitute requests at a rate of 50 to 70 percent roughly per day.
“So I’ll share our total absence count,” said Reed. “So that’s inclusive of administration, classified staff and certificate staff and our teaching group. We’re seeing anywhere from 15 percent to 17 percent of our staff out every day since we’ve come back from the winter break. So the percentage doesn’t seem high. But those are numbers that fall between 180 to 230 staff out per day, and we operate our total program with just over 1300 employees.”
At the end of the meeting three different motions were made for the board to vote on.
The first motion, which failed, was for students and staff to take a full week off with no distance learning while filing a J-13 waiver. Form J-13A is used to obtain the approval of attendance and instructional time due to emergency conditions. In the event of a school closure, with the approval of the J-13 waiver, there is no immediate impact of the Local Control Funding Formula. If the waiver is not approved, it could cost the district a total of $300,000 loss of funds for a week.
The motion recommended Butte Vista Elementary School to start it’s time off on Friday with students returning on Jan. 24 and students and staff to undergo testing prior to their return to school. Board members Greg Quilty, Shelley Priddy and Mary Buttacavoli voted yes while the others voted no.
A second motion that also failed called for the closing of Butte Vista Elementary School starting on Friday with distance learning for the week of Jan. 18-21 and students returning on Jan. 24, with students and staff undergoing testing on Jan. 23. This motion failed due to the fact that it did not receive a second motion.
A third motion was presented by Mary Buttacavoli, seconded by Sarbjit Takhar, and was voted yes by all board members except for Jasmin Dhami. The motion approved the closing of Butte Vista Elementary School starting on Friday and allowed for the return of students on Wednesday, Jan. 19, with no distance learning. A filing of a J-13 waiver would take place for the missed days of instruction on Friday and Tuesday. In order for students and staff to return on campus, they would have to undergo testing before their return to school.
“While we cannot rule out other schools eventually facing a similar situation, there are currently no plans to change the instruction model at any other YCUSD school. This decision pertains only to Butte Vista,” said the letter sent to parents by Osumi.