NOTE: On March 13, SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten, along with Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that all schools within their districts would close until April 6 as the novel coronavirus pandemic reached a "critical new phase." To read the latest on the San Diego Unified School District's response to coronavirus, click here.
The superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District assured parents and the public Thursday that “plans are in place” amid the new coronavirus pandemic now that it has reached San Diego County.
SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten said the school district – which, as the second-largest school district in California, serves more than 121,000 students across San Diego County – is speaking with public health officials “hour by hour,” including county public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.
With that communication in place, Marten said the school district can make “wise decisions for the public health and safety of our students.”
“It’s important that we are all prepared, and that we do not panic,” said Marten, flanked by city leaders and public health officials at a news briefing Thursday.
“Plans are in place – preparations are ready – for us to be able to make decisions as necessary,” she added.
Marten said those plans include ways to protect the district’s most vulnerable students, but she did not give further details at the briefing.
The school district tweeted Thursday it was planning a "full sanitization operation beginning Monday, that will include school classrooms."
The superintendent also said plans are in place around “social distancing,” which is the guideline of creating at least 6 feet of space between people near one another in rooms or public spaces.
Marten said the guidelines from Governor Gavin Newsom on shutting down events and gatherings of more than 250 people also pertain to school events.
Nathan Fletcher, supervisor for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said Thursday that effective at midnight, any gathering of 250 people of more is banned in San Diego County, through the end of March. This includes events in all jurisdictions throughout the county, Fletcher said.
“We’re part of a city and we’re following that guidance,” Marten said, referring to gatherings at schools, including sporting events.
Marten said SDUSD's website would continue to post updates on events and anything about the coronavirus and its impact on local schools.
The SDUSD also said they had made some changes in schools over the past couple of days. That includes staggering lunch and recess times so there is less mixing of large groups of students. Schools are also heavily sanitizing common areas and buses, according to the district.
As of Thursday, all SDUSD schools remained open.
But not everyone agrees with that decision.
Kisha Borden, president of the San Diego Educators Association (SDEA) -- the union serving 7,000 educators in the SDUSD, making it the second-largest education union in California -- released a statement Thursday calling for the closure of all SDUSD schools, "to protect the health of students, staff, and the broader community."
Borden also asked state, county and city leaders to continue food services for low-income students who rely on their schools for regular meals.
According to SDUSD, the California Department of Education was given a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide meals to students during a coronavirus-related closure.
On Tuesday, the SDUSD Board of Education authorized an emergency resolution to give decision-making power to Marten in case of an outbreak of the coronavirus.
Under the emergency resolution, the superintendent would be allowed to take actions like relocating students and staff, determining alternative educational program options, directing staff to serve disaster service workers, among others.
Marten said Thursday all decisions made by SDUSD are “made in concert with public health officials,” and stressed how different parts of the county are working together to get through the impact of COVID-19.
“We appreciate the science and the wisdom, and the words that you give us,” she added, speaking to public health officials at the news briefing.
The SDUSD was founded in 1854. Today it runs more than 226 educational facilities with more than 13,500 employees, including nearly 6,000 teachers in classrooms. The district includes 117 traditional elementary schools, nine K-8 schools, 24 traditional middle schools, 22 high schools, 49 charter schools, 13 alternative schools, and five additional program sites.
Meanwhile, other school districts in San Diego County have started sending letters home to parents about their plans for schools as the county combats the coronavirus pandemic.
Three private schools in the county -- La Jolla Country Day, Del Mar Pines Elementary, and the San Diego French American School, said the are or will be closing.