GGUSD Recognizes Ten Distinguished Schools Despite State’s Unfair Eligibility Criteria

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Allen and Cook elementary schools in the Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD) were honored by the California Department of Education as California Distinguished Schools at the 2023 California School Recognition Award Ceremony held at Disneyland Resort last Thursday.  GGUSD’s Board of Education made the decision to also recognize an additional eight of its elementary schools that were excluded from the award based solely on COVID-19 related absences which were included as part of the state’s “chronic absenteeism” eligibility criteria. When COVID-19 absences are removed, all eight schools’ “chronic absenteeism” rates fall within the very low rate and qualify them for the 2023 CA Distinguished Schools award.

In addition to Allen and Cook elementary schools, GGUSD will recognize Anthony, Barker, Excelsior, Garden Park, Hazard, Morningside, Murdy and Patton elementary schools as 2023 CA Distinguished Schools. According to GGUSD, including COVID-19 related excused absences in the state’s chronic absenteeism eligibility criteria unfairly denies schools of an honor for which they earned and punishes schools for factors out of their control.

According to the state’s criteria, students are considered chronically absent if they are absent at least ten percent of the school days enrolled, regardless if excused or unexcused. This wasn’t a problem for GGUSD back in 2020, but last year’s attendance data was markedly different due to COVID-19. GGUSD’s superintendent and board believe the state should have adjusted their practice accordingly to account for the pandemic.  

The 2021-2022 school year was the first full year of in-person instruction following distance learning and hybrid instruction and schools were still faced with increased absences due to high COVID-19 rates, and ongoing isolation and quarantine requirements. In the fall of 2021, students who tested positive for COVID-19 were required to isolate at home for 10 days and in the spring, that requirement changed to five days with a negative test result on day 6. In addition to positive cases, students were required to quarantine with any two symptoms present or after exposure, resulting in additional dates of school missed.

Students in low-income areas were forced into longer absences due to inability to isolate from relatives in the same home and limited access to medical resources. Garden Grove Unified saw numerous scenarios where students were required to stay home for 20 days of quarantine because their parent tested positive for COVID-19 and then the child developed symptoms. According to the state and county guidance, the student’s quarantine could not begin until day 11 when the parent’s quarantine ended and then the student could not return until day 6 with a negative test or day 11 without a test.  In GGUSD communities, where multiple families live together in one-bedroom apartments, this meant that their standard quarantine time could be up to 20 days. Chronic absenteeism is defined as ten percent of a school year or 18 days. A student who had COVID-19 once and then symptoms or exposure once or twice in the entire year would easily have missed 18 days last school year as they were PROHIBITED by the state and local health department from attending school. Additionally as per the situation described previously, 20 days was the standard quarantine time for GGUSD students living in poverty. Enforcement of quarantine rules varied by county and district, further causing inequitable outcomes based on geographic location and socio-economic status.

GGUSD district leaders have shared these concerns with the California Department of Education and is urging the CDE to exclude COVID-19 absences from the chronic absenteeism criteria and re-issue the CA Distinguished Schools to all deserving schools.  Regardless of the state’s decision, GGUSD will recognize its ten deserving schools at an upcoming board of education meeting.

“Garden Grove Unified School District will recognize 10 elementary schools as CA Distinguished Schools because these schools meet every required indicator for closing the achievement gap and exceptional student performance with the sole reason for exclusion being COVID-19 absences included as a part of "chronic absenteeism" rates,” said Board of Education President Walter Muneton.  “We are proud of the success of our schools which should not be diminished due to unfair eligibility determinations made by the CDE.”