LAUSD’s Plan to Cancel COVID-19 Testing Met with Controversy

Polina Asaulyuk, News Editor

Last October, most LAUSD students couldn’t even dream of being allowed to take their masks off on school grounds, let alone imagine discontinuing the mandatory, weekly COVID-19 testing. 

But after several months worth of failed attempts at easing the COVID-19 protocol and a rollercoaster of positive cases, the school district finally decided to do away with strict COVID-19 regulations. This included lifting the mask mandate in March, and the cancelation of baseline testing starting next semester. 

However, despite LAUSD being the last district in the country to ease its COVID-19 protocol, the decision was still met with a lot of controversy, especially from the testing staff themselves. 

”We know that this pandemic is not yet over at all,” said Nadine Starr, a sample collector who works at Venice High and other LAUSD schools. “The testing team were hoping that testing will come back for another year or two.” 

According to Starr, the current state of the pandemic—with the number of positive cases constantly going up and down—can lead to a dangerous surge if the spread of the virus in schools is no longer closely monitored. 

“Because I work in the medical field, I see more than what the layperson may see,” she said. “With COVID going up and down, we might face another surge—and we don’t want that. So I say let’s keep the testing going.” 

Assistant Principal Yavonka Hariston-Truitt said  it is unlikely that the district will get rid of covid testing completely considering the state of COVID-19. 

“I don’t see the district getting rid of testing completely by August,” she said. “They might leave a few designated sites where we could send our kids if they do need testing.” 

She also said that despite the current agreement between LAUSD and UTLA, it is likely that there will be more meetings between the district and the teachers’ Union to discuss the future of baseline testing in schools. 

“I think it’s going to be a long negotiation—and it should be,” said Hariston-Truitt. “I know many teachers feel safer knowing that everyone is tested regularly.” 

Hariston-Truitt added that the unpredictable nature of COVID-19 makes it very difficult to plan far out in the future and make concrete decisions. 

“I don’t think that we should make decisions based on the time that we haven’t come to yet,” she said. “Because we’ve seen through this year how unpredictable the spike in COVID-19 cases is.” 

She said that even if the district does away with baseline testing, there will always be the possibility of bringing it back if need be. 

“Even if we do get rid of testing in September, if we see a spike in cases in October then we’re bringing it right back,” she said.

The district “will definitely not leave its students and staff alone,” according to Hariston-Truitt.

LAUSD currently holds a contract with an expeditionary healthcare company called AMI, which employs over 1,000 medical staff—dedicated to the COVID-19 testing effort—in the district alone. Come next school year, the employees are at a risk of being let go, based on the current UTLA-LAUSD agreement. 

Starr, however, is more concerned about the threat this change in testing brings to LAUSD’s classrooms rather than to her employment status. 

A certified nursing assistant, she currently works two jobs. But starting this summer she will have to let one of the jobs go in order to further pursue education in the medical field. 

“I am going back to school,” Starr said. “Come this summer, I’m hopefully going to find the right school to become a correctional registered nurse.” 

She said she is looking on the bright side of potentially being let go, grateful for the experience. She also said she believes in a promising future. 

“When you love what you do it’s not really work,” she said. “I love working with kids, and I’ve definitely made a lot of friends here.

“There are many opportunities out there. I’m still going to work in hospitals and keep growing.” 

For Starr, working as a sample collector gave her an opportunity to combine two of her biggest passions: helping children and working in the medical field. 

After graduating from San Diego State University with a degree in communications, she worked for AT&T, but quickly realized she wanted more out of life. 

“I was doing well at my job, but I didn’t just want to sit behind the desk. I wanted to change the world,” Starr said. “So I talked to God and said, ‘Help me find my purpose.’ That led me to working with disadvantaged kids and later to working in the medical field.

“I lived my best life as a child, so I want to make sure that everyone else can, too.” 

David Monge, an LAUSD testing administrator, said he shares Starr’s passion for helping others and giving back to his community.

His job consists of assigning the tests to the students and staff before sending them to the sample collectors through searching them up in the database. 

“I grew up in South L.A. and went to college to study electrical engineering, but decided that wasn’t a route for me,” said Monge. “I have a passion in my heart for helping others. I find purpose in giving back to my community.” 

Until recently, he used to work two jobs as a warehouse agent and a COVID-19 tester. But an unfortunate back injury forced him to stop with his warehouse job, leaving him to be a full time COVID-19 testing administrator. 

Monge said he fears that the potential discontinuation of baseline testing might lead to negative consequences for his own well-being, as well as public health. 

“Well, I’m without a job if the testing gets discontinued. Plus I think it’s too early for that,” he said. “There are still places in the world on lockdown, like China. So I would keep testing for at least another year.” 

Monge added that he believes that the district was too quick in easing its protocol, including lifting the mask mandate. 

“I think it was something that the district just wanted to try, but there’s also been a lot of people who got sick,” he said. “There are people’s lives involved in this—people that we care about.” 

Starr also voiced her concern over aspects of the COVID-19 protocol being discontinued too quickly, saying the district should encourage mask wearing and better hygiene. 

Starr’s opinion on the ease of the district’s COVID-19 protocol is negative, as well. She believes the changes were too soon and out of political reasons as opposed to medical ones. 

“If we stay simple and focus on just health, wearing your mask and keeping a clean environment, then we can get COVID eliminated or just keep it at low,” she said. 

According to Starr, the benefits of a tougher COVID-19 protocol greatly outweigh the discomforts. 

“We have to be precautious,” she said. “It’s not that comfortable, but it will save many lives.”