MILPITAS (KPIX) - Schools across the Bay Area were scrambling to keep classrooms open on Monday, with different districts handling the COVID-19 surge in different ways. Despite their efforts, many students still opted to stay home.
Though the Milpitas Unified School District was forced to cancal a planned 10-day quarantine school officials hoped would slow the spread of the Omicron variant, the overwhelming majority of students chose to remain at home and work online.
"The most that I've had in any of my classes was just two. It was me and another kid," says Aaron Hernandez, a junior at Milpitas High School. Hernandez says he showed up to campus because he learns better and remains more engaged when he's in the classroom in person.
While the district did not provide numbers for how many students attended class in person versus online, students we spoke to outside Milpitas High School said their class were largely empty.
"I feel like at one point in time we're just going to have to get used to COVID and realize it's just going to be something that we're going to have to live with, says student Jacob Arciniega. He says he prefers in-person learning but also wants to protect vulnerable families at home.
His aunt picked him up midway through the school day to complete his lessons online.
"If the number keep increasing, they should do what's best for the people. And if distance learning is best for some, have that as an option," says Alyssa Aguirre.
Some students in Fremont Unified School District opted to go back to school Monday.
"It was good," said one sophomore from Irvington High. "There were a lot of people out from classes. They probably got COVID or they're waiting for test results."
The district handed out more than 30,000 rapid COVID tests last week for students to take before returning back to school. Day one of the handout turned into a bottleneck of cars and hours of waiting in line.
Parent Maria Arias said her family stayed home during winter break and she too wasn't concerned about her kids heading back on Monday.
"They know what to," said Arias. "Keep your distance. We are vaccinated. Wear the mask. So, no concern at all."
"It seemed like the normal amount of people that went back," added Arias's daughter.
District officials said attendance was lower Monday, as they expected, since many students were waiting for negative test results before returning. It is not clear how many students stayed home Monday because they were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
West Contra Costa Unified School District planned a long weekend to help control the COVID-19 surge. On Monday, parents and their children lined up outside District's central office to take part in free testing.
"Our district was hit hard by the Omicron variant and many of our staff and students were home sick last week," said WCCUSD in a statement. "The safety of our students and staff is our top priority, and to allow for more time for our communities to heal, and to alleviate some of the pressure on our system, we used flexible days off ("smoke days") that were already built into our schedule."
The smoke days on Friday and Monday were a chance for the District to deep clean its schools. Families were also asked to get tested before students return to campuses on Tuesday.
"It's important to everyone's safety, especially the kids, a lot of them are not vaccinated yet," said parent Maria Romo, who was waiting in line outside the central office.
Testing was expanded to include other locations across Contra Costa County.
Appointments were required at one location, which tested 1,250 people on Monday according to WCCUSD. Another 1,100 were tested at a second location. Both sites were initially supposed to be closed but the district later announced last week it would have both open on Monday.
"There's no drive through anywhere, there's only this place, that's why having testing is very good," said Tolulope Olabode, another parent in line who says some in her household are currently showing COVID symptoms.
People in line with an appointment told KPIX 5 they had to wait at least two hours to get tested. Some said they could not wait that long and decided to try and get a test elsewhere. Others, like Brandye Johnson did not have an appointment and were unaware of the requirement until they arrived at the site.
"One of the schools actually gave us an at-home test so we were just saving it and we'll probably use it," said Johnson, who left without getting her student tested.
WCCUSD says testing will continue at these locations all week but anyone who wants to get checked for COVID-19 must register in advance.
Meanwhile, the Hayward Unified School District is reverting back to virtual instruction for at least another week, after more than 500 students tested positive for COVID-19 and more the half of all classrooms were missing teachers. The school board will meet agian on Friday to reassess the situation.
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