A nurse who is the mother of a Whitmore Charter Elementary School student staged a seven-hour protest last week after her son was told he couldn’t come to school because she didn’t want to follow the Ceres Unified School District’s COVID campus testing requirements.
One of the students in Alex Merriam’s fourth grade class tested positive for COVID so the school informed Ty Merriam on Thursday morning, Oct. 7 that Alex may have been exposed and was being required to stay home during a 10-day quarantine period beginning from when the classmate tested positive. He had the option of undergoing a “modified quarantine” where he could come to class as long as he submits to a COVID test administered by school staff while remaining asymptomatic (having no symptoms).
COVID-19 hit the Merriam household in Hughson in August with her husband and two of their three children infected with the virus. All three had COVID symptoms and quarantined but Ty tested positive while remaining asymptomatic. Alex never showed any symptoms so his parents saw no need for him to be tested. After quarantining at home, the Merriam children returned to school.
Because the Merriams were about a month out from the initial signs of infections, she felt that a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test administered through CUSD would likely show a positive result for Alex – resulting in more days out of school. Merriam told the school nurse that the district testing was not the “most appropriate testing for Alex because we’re presuming that he was positive during our family’s exposure time. We’re assuming he was an asymptomatic COVID carrier as well.”
“If the test came back positive then they would have forced him to do 10 days of quarantining,” explained Merriam. “It could potentially lead to him losing more academic days when he’s completely asymptomatic and fine.”
She was told that Alex could get tested or if not be taken home.
As it was, Alex would be allowed to return to school by Tuesday since the class quarantine would be over.
Merriam expressed concern about the situation arising in the future should another classmate get COVID and her son losing more classroom instruction. She expressed a desire for an alternative to campus testing, thus the district gave her the option of procuring a letter from his doctor stating Alex was positive during the time his family was infected. She explained that as a Kaiser employee she believed her “pediatrician’s probably not going to give me a letter without some kind of proof that he was positive.” So that would require him to take an antibody screen tested which would take time.
Alex remained in class all day Thursday, Oct. 8 after her conversation with school staff but when he was dropped off at school Friday morning, staff told the Merriams that they needed to consent for Alex to be tested or be wouldn’t be allowed in class. Ty informed the principal that Alex’s pediatrician hadn’t responded to her a request for a letter. She also pointed out that classmates who were asymptomatic and tested by the district were allowed to remain on campus despite not knowing the test results.
“So technically they could be positive but still sitting in that classroom and why doesn’t Alex get that grace period to have his results come through as well?”
Alex’s mom picked him up from the school at 10 a.m. Friday and took him home. Before she left she told the principal “I would drop him off on Monday morning … and that she would have to be the one to tell him that he doesn’t get to come to school because it’s their policies.”
Alex underwent an antibody test on Saturday but results weren’t available on Monday. When the school said Alex could not attend class, she protested out in front with placards, questioning the fairness of a policy that treats students differently who chose to get tested outside of the school system testing.
With her son by her side, for seven hours Ty held up a protest sign and spoke with other parents that the CUSD cookie cutter policy is “absurd.”
“It’s Alex who’s getting denied his educational experience that he’s already been shortchanged like so many of these kids have for so long.”
Alex returned to school on Tuesday “with them not knowing any results from my child whatsoever.”
“It was completely absurd for him to miss those two days of school for really no reason.”Whitmore Charter Elementary School parent Ty Merriam
“It was completely absurd for him to miss those two days of school for really no reason.”
CUSD defended its COVID-19 protocols as determined by California Department of Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools.
“While we recognize that the COVID-19 requirements can be cumbersome and frustrating for families, the bottom line is that we all want to support safe learning environments for students,” said Beth Parker Jimenez, CUSD’s communications specialist.
She said that the options for COVID unvaccinated, asymptomatic students are: 1). modified (at-school) quarantine with testing twice during the quarantine period; or 2). Full (at-home) quarantine.
“A parent/guardian who selects the modified quarantine option for their child must either consent to self-administered at-school testing, seek approved (antigen or PCR) tests administered in a healthcare setting, or provide proof of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis within the past three months,” said Jimenez.
“Unfortunately, the only option available to a student whose parent/guardian declines to meet the requirements for modified quarantine is home quarantine. This is not a matter of treating students differently who are tested outside of school. Like their peers who are tested at school, asymptomatic students awaiting results from an approved COVID-19 test may remain at school on modified quarantine.”