Possible Change in School Reopening Plans Could Bring Back Sweetwater High School Seniors

The Sweetwater Union High School District is considering prioritizing seniors as it weighs options to qualify for state incentive funding

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The Sweetwater Union High School District may bring more high school seniors back on campus for in-person instruction. 

It's one change the district is considering as it re-evaluates plans for reopening schools in order to qualify for funding the state is giving to districts that open sooner rather than later.

“We’re looking at the legislation to see how we can maximize the opportunity to get the funding," said the district's Vernon Moore.

On February 26, the school board approved moving forward with Phase 2 of its reopening plan. Under the plan, 10% of students would come back on campus each day, beginning April 12, with the focus on foster, homeless, at-risk and students with disabilities.

Three days later, though, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to give districts a financial incentive to re-open by March 31. To qualify, some districts in the red tier would have to open at least one entire grade level.

A representative said the district is considering opening sooner so they can take advantage of financial incentives from the state. NBC 7's Rory Devine has more.

Moore said the district could prioritize high school seniors.

“Looking at our seniors and giving them a priority in terms of an on-campus experience in their final weeks of their senior year,” Moore said. “Again, that’s not set in stone. That’s an initial plan.”            

Bringing back more students could also mean more teachers would have to come back to campus early. Instead of a May 3 date for all teachers to return, teachers could volunteer to return by April 5 and get incentive pay: a one-time monthly increase of 7% of their monthly gross salary. They would also be given child-care options at no cost.  

“To offer teachers an incentive bonus to come back to work: Wow!” said community activist Mady Adato “I didn't get a bonus to come back to work. I mean, if you’re going to get extra money to go back to your job, that doesn't mean it’s any safer than it was.”

"The way we see it is, if the governor is offering school districts incentives to open up to in-person learning, then obviously those incentives need to be shared with our employee unit,” Moore said.

Moore said the district may also offer substitute teachers more pay, since substitutes have been in high demand during the pandemic. All this is subject to negotiations between the teachers' union and district, and is also dependent upon whether there are enough families that want to return to campus for in person instruction.

The district doesn't know if it will lose some of the state funding because it is starting after the governor's reopening deadline of March 31. At that time, the district will be in a two-week spring break (until April 5), so schools won't technically be open at that time. The district is hoping the state will see it that way .

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