While the massive San Diego Unified School District is preparing for the first day of school later this month, the two largest school districts in the South Bay have already been back at it for more than two weeks.
“Seeing them now in person here, it just makes everything worthwhile,” said a smiling Principal Julio Alcala as he stood amid a sea of students at Chula Vista High School.
Students returned to campus on July 21 for the first time in nearly a year-and-a-half.
“If we stick to our playbook of things constantly changing, we’ll be OK,” Alcala said.
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Alcala said his school and others within the Sweetwater Union High School District have done OK with their safety measures and supplies.
“It hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it was going to be,” said Alcala with a shrug.
Alcala said the biggest struggle has been adapting on-the-fly -- there isn’t exactly a proven playbook.
“We have to be ready to pivot from one day to the next, and really just adjust to the fluidness of all the protocols,” Alcala said.
“What we didn’t expect was the high number of tests that we’d have to conduct,” admitted Chula Vista Elementary School District superintendent Francisco Escobedo.
Escobedo warned other districts to make sure they have enough staff working at any school COVID-19 testing sites. CVESD and SUHSD said they are both conducting roughly 1,000 free tests every week, and that was before California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that unvaccinated teachers and staff would have to be tested weekly to go to work.
“We weren’t geared for that significant volume,” Escobedo said.
Testing unvaccinated staff is the only way for them to go to work. Testing children who get sick is the only way for them to return to campus. Escobedo said they have roughly 5,000 employees and 30,000 students. He said they’ve only had approximately 200 positive tests districtwide.
Escobedo said transparency is key to weathering the pandemic.
“You cannot overcommunicate your safety plan,” Escobedo said.
“There’s still a lot of anxiety about returning to school," Alcala said. "We are doing the best that we can with our protocols to keep everybody safe.”