Four Foot Rule Change Could Make it Easier to Reopen San Diego County Schools

The requirement to have a minimum of four feet to allow for physical distancing is replaced by a recommendation for six feet - if practicable

NBC Universal, Inc.

A fight to get schools open for in-person instruction, full-time, five days a week, is gaining momentum, and not just in San Diego County. 

In an oral hearing Wednesday, Judge Cynthia Freeland clarified that her Monday ruling in a local lawsuit applies to school districts statewide.

“Ecstatic,” said Scott Davison, from the Parent Association of Carlsbad, one of the parent chapters in the North County that filed suit against the state for what they said was unfair rules keeping districts from reopening. “We didn’t want just to solve this issue for these six school districts in this lawsuit, we wanted all schools in the state of California to be able to open back full time."

The ruling said schools could open even in the purple tier, and the definition of what it means to reopen is too restrictive, both points are moot for San Diego County, since the county is in the red tier. But the third change could be a game-changer for schools wanting to reopen to more students for more days.  

The judge ruled there is no longer a requirement to have four feet of spacing to allow for social distancing. Now, the requirement will revert to a recommendation for six feet of spacing, only if practicable.

“This illustrates how confusing it’s been for schools since day one,” said Carlsbad Unified School District Superintendent, Ben Churchill. “The fact the state says ‘practicable’ has always been a problem for us because what does that really mean?  Is it a guideline? Is it loosely recommended? Is it strongly recommended? What? We've never been sure.”  

Churchill says he believes the state is encouraging schools to find ways to physical distance but “they’re not saying there’s a magic number.” He said with safety protocols schools have in place, physical distancing is not as important. 

“We feel pretty good that our complement of strategies will be sufficient, so we're probably not going to be as hung up anymore on pulling out tape measures and measuring in between kids. That said we're not going to stuff as many kids into a classroom as possible, that doesn't make sense either," Churchill said.

After an oral hearing Wednesday to clarify the judge’s order, Churchill is now waiting on the written clarification of the judge's ruling. He is also waiting to find out whether the defense will appeal, which it has indicated it will. 

“That said, we’re going to proceed forward with our planning as if in fact that rule is invalidated, so we can figure out how best to get our kids on campus more than simply the two days a week that we started this week," Churchill said.

The Superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District, Robert Haley, wrote to NBC 7, “We are anticipating clarification of the temporary restraining order by the end of the day [Wednesday] or by tomorrow [Thursday] morning. In our planning, we want to support all our students, which includes our students on campus and our students learning from home."

He added the board will meet this week, and he anticipates the need for a special board meeting to discuss the ruling the week of March 22.

In an email, Poway Unified School District's chief communications officer Christine Paik told NBC 7, "We will be working with our teachers, staff and administrators to see what is possible at our schools. Our District goal has always been to open as fully and safely as possible.”

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