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As the delta variant spurs a spike in COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles — along with vaccine mandate rollouts and indoor mask rules being restored — children across the city are returning to in-person school, eliciting emotions ranging from delight to dread from parents.
LAUSD public schools welcomed students back to the classroom Aug. 16, while charter and private schools’ first days are staggered now through after Labor Day — a month span in which hundreds of thousands of preschoolers and elementary and middle schoolers, not yet old enough to hit the 12-year-old vaccine age minimum, will be back in close quarters.
“I have quite a bit of anxiety around the transmissibility of delta,” says one industry mother whose 5-year-old son is starting kindergarten at Citizens of the World East Valley charter school in Valley Village. “The possibility of not only contracting COVID, but potentially also long COVID symptoms, weighs heavily after keeping him safe for so long.” Studies estimate long COVID — lingering neurological, physical or psychiatric symptoms — may affect 10 to 30 percent of adults infected with the coronavirus, but its impact on kids is unclear. There also have been reports of children simultaneously developing respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection and COVID-19, or rare cases of inflammatory multisystem syndrome post-infection.
This parent tells THR, however, that she is happy her son can make new friends in person amid the school’s safety protocols, which include masking, separating kids at lunch, and vaccination mandates for staff. The latter aligns with LAUSD’s policy; the district announced Aug. 13 that all employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 15.
Natalie — a Hollywood mother (who asked to be referred to by first name) with one child in a private preschool and one starting at Seven Arrows private school in Pacific Palisades — says both schools have “gone above and beyond” to prepare for a safe return, but “my biggest concern is that there will be a positive case and we will have to shut down for a few weeks. I want my children to have as normal of a school experience as possible.”
Janet Carol Norton, partner and co-head of production at ICM, has two school-age kids, including a 12-year-old who attends The Willows Community School in Culver City. She says the private school is so on top of COVID safety that “they should be running the country.” Although her children are older and have both been vaccinated, she admits she’s nervous about the delta variant and her kids attending school with younger students who have not gotten the shot.
“I’m concerned about people letting their guard down. I believe even with the vaccination, we should be wearing masks pretty much everywhere,” says Norton, who has ordered KN95 masks in a variety of colors “to help add pizzazz to the kids’ back-to-school clothes.”
L.A. benefits from high vaccination rates (72 percent of county residents have received at least one shot) and has largely avoided the mask wars roiling Florida and Texas. On Aug. 17, LAUSD reported that in the two weeks prior to the school year’s start, 3,255 out of 450,000 students tested positive for coronavirus (a 0.8 percent infection rate). Though many parents are anxious to see how the first weeks of school play out, others believe the benefits far outweigh the risks. TV writer and The Right Stuff showrunner Mark Lafferty says he is excited for his two daughters, who attend Third Street Elementary, to return. “Like many parents and students, our family was exhausted with Zoom by the end of the academic year,” he says. “Nothing compares to actually being in a classroom or on a playground with your teachers and peers.” The public school is enforcing weekly COVID tests and mask mandates, which quell his fears about the delta variant.
Jessica Lacy, ICM partner and head of independent and international film, has the same outlook for her kids, ages 4 and 7: “I feel good about them returning to school. Both schools have taken proper precautions with vaccinating teachers and staff, weekly testing, masks for all, small cohorts and outside learning.”
Adds Geffen Playhouse executive director Gil Cates Jr., “For my wife and me, the interaction aspect of being in school with teachers and other students is critical to learning, and we’re happy our daughters will be experiencing that again.” His daughters, 7 and 9, are returning to their magnet school with testing, masks, smaller class sizes and socially distanced classroom configurations.
“I’m optimistic,” says Elizabeth English, head of the private Archer School for Girls in Brentwood, which mandates that all students over 12, plus faculty and staff, get vaccinated. “I think we as a country and as a community are going to get better at responding to what is probably going to be an ever-changing health and safety landscape. It’s just becoming more a part of how we have to do business.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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