San Diego Unified School District announced Tuesday it is delaying advancement to Phase 2 of its campus reopening plan and will keep educating most students virtually through the first part of 2021.
The delay was forced by the worsening coronavirus situation in which transmission rates have ballooned to new highs. The district said it would keep monitoring public health data and reassess its situation on Jan. 13.
Phase one, which entails limited on-campus instruction for special groups, will continue, according to the district. In fact, the SDUSD said it is planning on expanding those services to more students.
"Everyone looks forward to reuniting students and teachers in classrooms in the new year as quickly and as safely as possible. San Diego Unified has already spent tens of millions of dollars on air filtration, plexiglass desk dividers, hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment and more. Schools will be ready when it is safe and responsible to fully reopen. Unfortunately, that time has not yet come," the district said.
The district began Phase 1 in mid-October. The plan was to begin rolling out Phase 2 in late-October, then it was pushed back to January, and now district families will have to wait until mid-January for an update on the plan.
Under Phase 2, students from kindergarten through fifth grade would return to campus four days per week, Mondays through Thursdays, either in a morning session or an afternoon session. Fridays would be set aside for online check-ins and "independent asynchronous learning."
To help with social distancing and limiting contact-exposure, morning students would sit at every other desk, which would be separated by Plexiglas panels. Then, in the afternoon, children would sit in the desks that were empty in the mornings.
"San Diego Unified’s reopening plans include strict measures that are designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and to our community,” district physician Dr. Howard Taras, who is associated with UCSD's Department of Pediatrics, said in a statement. “We continue to rely on the expertise and collaboration of my UCSD colleagues and public health officials.”
Older students, in 6th grade through 12th grade, would return to campus in Phase 2 for two days per week, with half of them attending in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Students would attend six hours a day of on-site instruction and two hours of flex time. Fridays would be set aside for online learning for older students as well.
Of course, any student who wishes to continue distance learning rather than returning to campus has that option if their parents request it.
The district already has a plan in place to test students and staff for the coronavirus. It's expected to cost the district nearly $5 million and would operate through the end of the 2020-21 school year.
SDUSD's nearly 100,000 students and approximately 10,000 associated teachers and support staff would take PCR tests twice a month at a cost of roughly $80 per person per month, authorities said. Students will still be compelled to submit to daily health screenings prior to admission to campuses.
“This testing program is an essential part of our plan to continue teaching students in the middle of a global pandemic,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said. “The science is clear. We can prevent 90 percent of disease spread at schools simply by putting in place a robust testing program like the one we are announcing today.”
The district currently has 43 testing sites set up for employees, including two on the campuses of Rosa Parks and Central elementary schools, in the Fairmount Village and the nearby Teralta West neighborhoods, respectively. The district also plans to create a new position for an executive director of nursing and wellness to manage the testing regimen.
The family of any student found to test positive will be asked to work with contact tracers to identify and quarantine others who may be infected. Also, the district would work with the county to determine who else would be required to quarantine if the ill student had attended in-person classes.
"We know there are gonna be cases," said school board president John Lee Evans. "There's never going to be a situation where there are no cases. So where we can -- quickly isolate individuals who do have a positive test."
Entire schools would shift to distance learning if either of the following criteria were met, according to the district:
- Two or more cohorts/groups each have two or more students or staff members who have been identified as COVID-19+ during a 14-day period
- Five percent or more of the teachers/student/staff at the school site have been identified as COVID-19+ within a 14-day period