Santa Ana Unified School District dashboard quietly disappeared from the district website last week amid Orange County’s fourth COVID-19 surge and as other districts are reporting less cases compared to earlier this month.

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District Spokesperson Fermin Leal said the dashboard was taken down in the middle of last week because the district wanted to create a more up to date version of the dashboard.

“The dashboard that was before was looking 14 days back and we didn’t think that was the most accurate way to present our current situation with COVID and our positive cases,” he said in a Monday phone interview.

Leal said he believes the new dashboard would go up Monday, but the webpage is blank as of Monday evening.

He added he was unsure of the exact timeframe the new dashboard would look at  – whether it would display case rates for five days or 10.

“We knew that, following the break, it was a little skewed,” he said. “As our cases are going down, they weren’t falling off the dashboard until the 14 days expired for each case, so it was decided that that wasn’t the best way to present the data for our community.”

To date, the district has received over $300 million in federal and state COVID relief money, according to Leal.

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The abrupt change comes as some OC parents and teachers have been questioning the accuracy of the dashboards from school districts across the county – they say the numbers don’t reflect the emptiness of the classrooms.

It also comes as at least three districts reported fewer cases this week, compared to previous reports.

[Read: Parents Across Orange County Keep Tense Watch as School COVID Dashboards Soar]

How long cases stay on a dashboard depends on the district.

No school district, however, retains a weekly historic account of the cases on their dashboard making it difficult to plot a school’s pandemic trajectory.

Some districts display positive cases on their dashboards for 10 days before the data is scrubbed, like the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District

Others display a positive case for about two weeks before pulling the numbers off the dashboard, like Garden Grove Unified and Capistrano Unified School District.

The Santa Ana Unified School District didn’t tell parents they pulled down the dashboard to update it.

“I don’t think we sent anything out because I think when it was removed, there was still discussion of what it was going to look like,” said Leal.

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Santa Ana Unified isn’t the only district in Orange County to take down their dashboard over accuracy concerns in recent weeks.

Saddleback Valley Unified also dropped their dashboard temporarily because they said they couldn’t keep up with the volume of positive cases – amid a staff shortage districts across the county have been hit since the return from winter break.

After Voice of OC’s coverage of the dashboard shutdown, district officials brought it back online the same day the story was published. 

[Read: Saddleback Valley School District Angers Parents by Ending COVID Dashboard During Surge]

The district’s revised dashboard shows COVID-19 cases amongst the larger district community and not just people who have had it while on a district campus.

Saddleback’s dashboard shows daily reports for students and staff stretching back to Jan. 12 2022.

The district reported 93 student and staff cases on Friday on their dashboard.

Officials said the dashboard was changed in an effort to get accurate numbers to the public.

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The fourth wave has not only increased student absences, but also created a staff shortage for local school districts as people test positive have to quarantine.

Districts have shuffled staff around to address the shortages and cover the teachers who are out.

Last week, Capistrano Unified district trustees unanimously passed a resolution at their board meeting stating temporary staffing needs as they struggle to get substitute teachers.

[Read: Capistrano School District Struggles to Get Substitute Teachers During Omicron Wave]

At the meeting, the district superintendent Kirsten Vital Brulte said numbers are going down in the district and thanked staff for their efforts to keep classrooms open.

“Teachers have probably never written so many independent study plans, missed so many prep periods to sub in other classrooms and supported so many students at home at one time,” she said.

Capistrano Unified has the most students enrolled in the county and its dashboard stretches back for 14 days, but doesn’t give a daily breakdown.

The district’s dashboard showed 1,445 confirmed COVID cases out of 45,653 staff and students on Monday morning – a decline from last Wednesday’s 1,573 positive cases.

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Meanwhile, Santa Ana Unified is the second biggest district in Orange County by enrollment and serves families in one of the pandemic’s hardest hit communities.

It was also one of the last districts to allow for students to return to classrooms.

Some Santa Ana teachers are calling on the district to go back online temporarily and have started a petition that has garnered over 270 signatures as of Monday.

Shayna Lathus, a teacher in the district, said in an interview last week that schools should shut down for a week and require a negative test for students to come back.

Some OC teachers, like Lathus, have told the Voice of OC they are tired, overworked and overwhelmed by having to fill in for missing staff and question the sustainability of carrying on like this amid the surge.

“We feel like the district has decided to just let Omicron run through the population and it’s more important to have bodies in seats instead of actual instruction and they’re just kind of showing up and trying to get through each day,” Lathus said.

Leal said Monday absentee rates have improved since the return from winter break.

“We are seeing more students return to school and same with our staffing we’re seeing fewer staffing shortages over the last week, compared to the first couple of weeks after the winter break,” he said.

The falling absences also come as Orange County’s positivity rate decreased. 

As of Monday, 23.6% of COVID tests were coming back positive, according to state data.

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Meanwhile, some OC school districts continue to report hundreds of new COVID cases, with at least three districts – Irvine, Capistrano and Garden Grove – reporting over a thousand cases on their dashboards.

The Garden Grove Unified School District reported 1,706 confirmed cases as of Friday out of over 44,000 students and staff going in person, according to the district’s dashboard – significantly up from 1,045 cases reported on Jan.14.

Like Capistrano Unified, Garden Grove’s dashboard stretches back two weeks without a daily breakdown.

But the number of reported cases in some districts are going down compared to reports earlier this month.

Anaheim Union High School District updates their Dashboard on a weekly basis on Fridays.

For the week of Jan. 15 through Jan. 21, the district reported 786 COVID cases on the dashboard, down from the prior week’s 1,183 cases.

The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School district is reporting 822 COVID cases out of 26,000 people on their dashboard on Monday morning, which stretches back 10 days.

That’s down from the 1,300 cases reported Jan. 14.

Some school districts, like Santa Ana, are offering COVID tests every week at schools and the district office.

Click here for this week’s schedule.

Leal said testing would continue throughout the rest of the month and then officials are expected to reevaluate their test clinics to see the demand.

But Santa Ana isn’t the only place in the county where people are raising concerns.

One Irvine Unified teacher, who didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation by their district, called the situation a “shit show.”

“There aren’t enough people, there aren’t enough resources, and there’s this projection by the district that everything is safe and perfect and it’s not. Mask compliance isn’t 100%,” the teacher said in an interview last week.

“There’s definitely fear, frustration and also gratitude for my students that show up despite all of this and just want to keep going with their learning,” the Irvine teacher added.

In the Irvine Unified School District there are 1,680 positive student and staff cases out of 38,583 students and staff on district campuses stretching back 14 days, according to the district’s dashboard updated Friday. 

On Jan. 14, the district reported 1,649 confirmed cases.

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While some people push for a temporary return to online, others want districts to stay open for in-person instruction.

[Read: Classroom or Online Learning? Orange County Debates How to Teach Students During Omicron Spike]

Regardless, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state public health officials have repeatedly said online learning isn’t going to be an option anytime soon.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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