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Fresno Unified Wasn’t Ready to Test Kids for COVID-19 so They Could Stay in School



The Fresno County Public Health Department has approved Fresno Unified's modified quarantine plan. (Shutterstock)
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Cheri Perry’s third-grade daughter was eager to return to Malloch Elementary for in-person classes after last year’s pandemic-caused school closures.

But on Monday, the first full day of classes for Fresno Unified students, Perry got a phone call from the school saying her daughter had to stay home for 10 days because she had been identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Perry said she questioned why her daughter would have to quarantine at home since the policies publicized on the Fresno Unified website say that children who are masked, do not show symptoms of COVID-19, and have a negative test for the virus may remain at the school.

A screenshot of Fresno Unified’s back-to-school website with the student quarantine information.

She told GV Wire that she learned late Monday that the district, which has received tens of millions of dollars in federal and state money to reopen schools safely, was still waiting for the Fresno County Department of Public Health to approve the modified quarantine procedure for students. She said she also was told that the at-school quarantine would not be applied retroactively for Perry’s daughter and other students across the district who have been sent home because of close contacts.

“We are trying our best as parents to cooperate with the school district. I understand that this is a huge undertaking for Fresno Unified. It’s the third-largest district in California. There’s a lot of kids, there’s a lot of parents. There’s a lot of things happening and a lot of wheels and, you know, a lot of cogs in them in motion,” she said. “But for them to have any school site not prepared on the first day of school to follow the policies that they’ve communicated to parents and to not have the transparency to communicate to us that they’re not ready is just inexcusable and unacceptable.”

Modified Quarantine Plan Starts Wednesday

District spokeswoman Amy Idsvoog said the district on Tuesday morning received approval from the county public health department to begin the testing program, and the district will be notifying parents later Tuesday.

Why weren’t parents notified that the program was not yet in effect by the start of the school year, even though it had been publicized in emails to parents as early as July 31? “We’ve been focusing on trying to get staff trained, so there was a gap,” Idsvoog said.

District officials hadn’t expected so many close contacts so early in the school year, she said. Over the weekend and on Monday, the district had to close 10 elementary school classrooms because of close contacts, Idsvoog said.

The district’s athletic departments, which have been COVID testing student-athletes since last spring, participated in the school staff training, she said.

The state provided the new modified quarantine guideline in late July, which allows students who have been masked when they had a close contact to remain in school if they remain masked, show no signs of illness from the coronavirus, and are tested twice in 10 days.

Training After School Started

Fresno Unified school staff were being trained last week and provided testing supplies — the antigen test, also known as the rapid test, involves a self-swab by students — and the district didn’t submit its final plan to the health department until Monday, Idsvoog said.

The antigen test detects protein fragments specific to the coronavirus.

But Perry said that Malloch’s principal told her that the school still lacked COVID-19 testing supplies, even though they were trained.

Idsvoog said she would follow up to determine if that’s the case, since schools were supposed to pick up testing supplies as they exited the training. At midday Tuesday, Idsvoog said she confirmed with Malloch that the testing supplies were obtained last week after the training.

Fresno Unified is purchasing the antigen tests through the county health department, “and we’ve already placed our next order,” she said.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email