Santee School District Postpones Full-Time, In-Person Return

Plan to reopen classrooms full time in the middle of the holiday season upset many parents.

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In light of a recent surge of COVID-19 cases in San Diego County, board members with the Santee School District voted to postpone a plan that would have returned students to classrooms full-time the Monday after Thanksgiving.

“I want kids back for a full day. Right now is just not the time to do that,” said board President Dustin Burns.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of the delay, with board Vice President Barbara Ryan voting against the motion. The board then voted unanimously to revsit the plan on Jan. 11.

Many parents were not happy with the board’s original decision to move to full-time in-class instruction. The plan was approved in October when case rates in the county were lower.

“I didn’t think it was very fair to any of us. They didn’t survey the parents, they didn’t survey the teachers," said parent Cary Ryan.

In September, the K-8 district adopted a hybrid model that most parents say is working. Under the model, classes are split in half with one group attending in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Classes are about two-and-a-half hours long, and students are sent home with additional school work.

But after several weeks operating under the hybrid model, the school district decided to go to full-sized classrooms.

“We’re trying to balance the physical, safety, and social and emotional needs of the kids,” said Superintendent Kristin Baranski.

According to the district’s COVID-19 case dashboard, there are 5,672 students and 839 employees in the district. As of Thursday, there were nine active student cases, which equates to 0.106% of the district’s student population.

The superintendent pointed to low case rates and zero transmission within the district as a basis to move forward with a move to full-sized classrooms.

But many parents disagreed.

“I just feel like it’s not the right time. I do want my kids back in school full time, but now, around the holidays and with numbers rising, it just does not seem like the right time," said Ryan.

Ryan’s two children attend Pepper Drive Elementary, where there have been seven positive cases. On Thursday, parents received notification that an individual on campus tested positive.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to put 30 students back in the classroom because I feel like that’s going to increase the exposure rate,” said parent Charlene Alsbaugh.

Alsbaugh said she was originally in favor of the move to full-sized classrooms. But in early November, both of her children were quarantined due to a close contact case.

“My opinion was changed because we had to deal with the reality of it. In the last two weeks, our household had exposure twice within the general population, so that has completely changed my opinion,” said Alsbaugh.

But Zane Savin, who’s two children also attend Pepper Drive Elementary, was in complete support of the move to full-sized classrooms.

“I’m all for it. Cases are very sparse. The district has been diligent in their safety protocol efforts. My daughter was sent home after complaining of a sore throat,” said Savin.

Meanwhile, there are about 350 teachers in the district. A spokesperson for the Santee Teachers Association said this in an email statement to NBC 7:

“Many teachers feel returning at this time (while in the purple tier and during the holiday season) increases the risk to the students, to them, and the community. Teachers want to be teaching their students, teaching is what they love doing. The hybrid (am/pm) model is working well right now. Most teachers feel it would be more appropriate to return to full-time instruction in mid-January or when we are no longer in the purple tier,” said Melanie Hirahara, President of the Santee Teachers Association.

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