After previously announcing learning would remain virtual through 2020, The Poway Unified School District has changed course and approved a plan that could get students back into the classroom as soon as next month.
The PUSD Board of Education on Thursday approved a phased reopening plan that would allow elementary school students to return for in-person learning in two groups, a morning group and an evening group.
The first elementary schools would reopen on Oct. 1, and the remaining PUSD elementary schools would open on Oct. 12. Parents will still have the option to keep their children fully virtual if they so choose.
While at school, students will be required to wear masks. Students will be split into two groups to allow for better physical distancing.
School board president Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff said, in a survey, 60% of parents said they wanted their children to go back for in-person learning when possible. She said the district purchased more personal protective equipment, specifically plexiglass barriers for desks that she said made families and teachers feel more comfortable.
“That was something we were pushing back on because there was a huge expense and there was a nationwide backlog on those orders, so it was going to take a long time to come in. Turns out we’ve got them, and that’s exciting," O'Connor-Ratcliff said.
School board staff recommended that the school develop traffic flow patterns for each campus and create wellness stations with assigned staff that are trained for the role.
The board also voted to allow small groups of middle and high school students to return to campus for targeted learning support, social emotional groups, special education services, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.
Abraxas High School, PUSD's continuation high school, will reopen on Oct. 8 using an A/B schedule, which will split students up into two groups. Special education services will resume on-campus instruction for small groups after Sept. 24, PUSD said.
School board staff also noted that transitioning secondary students comes with an added layer of complexity, and some students and teachers may have their entire schedules shift as a result.
"Changing schedules involves multiple layers of revision including moving students who wish to return to campus or be virtual to coordinate with teachers who have requested the same, changing teacher assignments to meet the schedule requests/needs of the students both in-person and virtual, and balancing class sizes to align to negotiated targets," the staff wrote.
Melissa Sofia, has four children, three in elementary school. She said she “jumped for joy” when she heard elementary students would be going back for in-person learning.
“We need to find a way to balance both the number and safety for preventing COVID, but at the same time really take into consideration the needs of our children and ourselves, our entire family members," she said.
Details on how to reopen secondary schools will be discussed at the board's Sept. 24 meeting.
The PUSD had planned to remain fully virtual through the 2020 school year after San Diego County was placed on the state's coronavirus monitoring list -- a metric used to determine which California counties had case rates growing out of control. Being on the monitoring list meant that many indoor services, including education, would be put on hold.
But by mid-August, San Diego's coronavirus case rate steadied and on Sept. 1, the county was officially removed from the state's monitoring list.
While the school board began drafting a plan for in-person learning, the 2020-2021 school year started on Sept. 2 with more than 36,500 students online.
PUSD operates 25 elementary schools, one elementary and middle school combination, six middle schools, one continuation high school, five comprehensive high schools, and one adult school. The District serves more than 36,000 students and is the third-largest school district in the county.
NBC 7 is tracking how all 42 school districts in San Diego County plan to tackle the 2020-2021 school year.