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Back To School: Students Return From Winter Break Amid Surge In COVID-19 Infections

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Students across Southern California are returning to school Monday after the winter holiday break, but there is major concern that they could be bringing the latest variant of COVID-19 with them.

"It's difficult for districts at the 11th hour to make a radical change," said Mario Di Leva of the Torrance Teachers Association. "Like returning to remote instructions or delaying the end of a winter break to buy some time, if you will."

Burbank Unified School District and Culver City Unified School District officials decided to move forward with in-person classes, despite the surge in new infections across the country. In Los Angeles County alone, public health officials reported an average of nearly 24,000 new positive cases over the past three days.

Moving forward with in-person learning was not an easy decision. Burbank Unified held an emergency meeting Sunday to consider a delay in students returning to school, ultimately deciding against a delay. However, school officials said they would institute new safety precautions, such as requiring staff to wear medical-grade masks. Students will also have wear masks indoors, and now, also while outside.

However, the mere consideration of shutting down in-person learning again did not sit well with some parents.

"This is the first time I've ever sat and considered pulling out my kids out of this district, because this kind of reactive, alarmist reaction is not why we're here," the mother said.

In Culver City, school officials assured parents that students and staff were still scheduled to return to schools Tuesday, and that the district would provide medical-grade masks for all students and staff upon their arrival.

The Omicron variant is believed to be behind the precipitous spike in new infections, and Los Angeles County public health officials have issued new protocols for schools reopening, including strong recommendations that all eligible staff and students receive a COVID-19 booster. All school staff will also be required to wear surgical-grade masks indoors and outdoors on school campuses when physical distancing is not possible.

Beyond Los Angeles County, Riverside Unified School District is also returning to campuses Monday, but is urging parents to make sure they screen their children for symptoms, particularly fever, sore, throat, coughing or muscle pain. Ventura County's Office Of Education says all of its schools are also expected to return to in-person learning, as the state "does not currently permit Pre-K-12 schools to offer distance learning."

Gov. Gavin Newsom has also said at-home COVID-19 tests would be sent to all students in California, but the tests are stuck in transit due to bad weather in Utah, according to Orange County school officials.

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