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California Legislature Looks To Modify How Quarantined Students Are Taught

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - The Delta variant has brought a number of quarantine conundrums as many students' school years are just beginning. Many families have already had their children sent home, and most all of them are left to study solo.

"My 3rd grader is able to go to school even though they live in the same room as my quarantined 6th grader," said Daniel Bryant, confused and frustrated over quarantine protocols.

His daughter was exposed at school in Windsor Unified School District in Sonoma County. He said because her class was outside without masks - she didn't qualify for a modified quarantine and couldn't take a test to return, even though she had no symptoms.

"She basically lost one week of school," Bryant said. "These kids are getting sent home that have no symptoms."

The same story can be told across the state.

"It's significantly more than we saw last school year," said Superintendent Eric Bonniksen with the Placerville Union School District. He's noted the increase of quarantined kids, and said smaller districts may be hit the hardest due to lack of resources.

Districts already facing teacher and substitute shortages pre-pandemic are now spread incredibly thin. Legally having to offer an independent study program, he said, added a new challenge - and didn't have someone in place to oversee the program until early September. Several districts saw skyrocketing demand for the program, but many districts didn't have the staff right away.

But districts are now facing another shortage - COVID testing. Bonniksen said he doesn't have much staff to test kids coming to school under a modified quarantine - having to prove negative tests to be in class if exposed indoors, with masks on. He said he spends hours each day physically testing kids, himself. Now there's fear of test shortages - and says tests coming from the state could soon be on back order due to demand.

"If we don't have the ability to test, then that option is taken off the table for them to stay in school with testing," Bonniksen said.

Bonniksen is one of dozens that signed a letter directed at Governor Newsom and the legislature, asking for more to be done before the legislative session ends on Friday. He hopes to see new incentives to hire staff, districts to keep funding when kids enter quarantine and for remote learning options to be deemed 'ok' during students' quarantine periods.

"When students are being quarantined, they're not getting that direct instruction," Bonniksen said. "Academically that's not ideal and what we're trying to avoid."

Many parents, like Bryant, hope the California Department of Public Health loosens the reigns on quarantine restrictions.

"It would be great if there was something other than quarantine," said Bryant. "But what they really need to do is get the guidelines to be less granular."

Others just want more options if a student is sent home. The legislature must clarify and amend a bill with educational revisions by Friday - which could allow for students to utilize remote learning during short-term quarantines.

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