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Getting Answers: Are Distance Learning, Paid Sick Leave Due To Make A Return?

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) -- The line for COVID-19 testing ran down the street in front of the Serna Center, where the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) offices are located, as families waited to test their students and themselves.

On Tuesday, some spent close to an hour in line waiting for their test. It's a necessary step for students to return to class and their families to return to work.

SCUSD leaders are up against the COVID-19 omicron variant. This past week, the district had 307 staff and 1,282 student unduplicated positive COVID cases, totaling 1,589 positive cases, according to a video address by SCUSD Superintendent Jorge Aguilar.

The district, like others, is facing a substitute teacher shortage.

In response, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an executive order Tuesday that would allow retired teachers and educators to step-in for districts with staff shortages due to COVID.

"We are doing our best to notify families as quickly as we can, but there is a high volume right now. That's just one of the struggles as we manage this wave," said Victoria Flores, director of Student Support and Health Services at SCUSD.

District leaders want to open more testing centers, but as of right now, do not have the staff to do so. That is one reason why lines at the Serna Center went down the block — families want to make sure they have answers.

"I'm here because my daughter tested positive a few days ago, I am here to get her tested and get myself tested to get her back to school," said Melvin Buford, a parent at Caleb Greenwood Elementary.

Concerns for parents come at the same time as the positivity rate, last week, was 16%. School activities like lunch now bring more questions from parents as more is learned of how contagious the omicron variant can be.

"We're focusing on those higher risk activities, like classrooms or sporting cohorts, other athletic cohorts. We do our best around lunchtime, we know that is a time when students would have masks off," said Flores. 

A SCUSD spokesperson told CBS13 that the district ordered picnic tables, but they have not arrived due to supply chain issues. Yoga mats are also available for students at lunchtime.

As for tents for students to eat outside year-round, permits are required, according to a spokesperson:

"Sites have tents that must be approved by the Division of State Architecture (DSA) for schools which is more challenging than simply purchasing and installing."

Getting Answers: Paid COVID Sick Leave

The governor's budget, announced Monday, includes calls for new legislation to implement supplemental paid sick leave policies considering the current surge of COVID cases due to the omicron variant.

Existing sick leave policies are already in place, according to a spokesperson for the governor's press office, that allow individuals to take time off to care for family members, including children.

The proposed legislation would be similar to the sick leave policy that expired last fall, which required businesses with 26 or more employees to offer as much as two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave to take care of themselves or family members.

Approximately 10.9 million at-home COVID-19 test kits arrived to school districts statewide, and SCUSD received their shipment from the statement before the end of 2021. By end-of-day Tuesday, all counties in California will have received the at-home kits they requested.

Those tests, according to a spokesperson for the Governor's Office, are in addition to the 2 million tests provided to schools in early December prior to students leaving on winter break.

Getting Answers: Distance Learning

Only public health officials can decide if a school or school district closes. The waiver that allowed California schools to go to distance learning at the height of the pandemic expired in 2021.

SCUSD works closely with Sacramento County Public Health to establish best practices and health and safety protocols on campuses.

The Serna Center will be open for COVID testing on Monday January 17, a holiday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for SCUSD families and students. It will be staffed by volunteers.

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