Late Sunday night superintendents with Carlsbad Unified School District, San Dieguito Union High School District, and Poway Unified School District announced they did not get their waivers approved by the state to resume in-person instruction.
The three superintendents -- Ben Churchill, Ed.D., with CUSD; Robert Haley, Ed.D., with SDUHSD; and Marian Kim Pheps, Ed.D., with PUSD -- each said they spoke directly with Dr. Naomi Bardach, lead of the Safe Schools for All Team for the state of California, and asked she appeal the decision, but said Bardach was unwilling to change the ruling and said the decision was final.
According to the guidelines from the California Department of Public Health, the districts can offer distance learning in small groups on campus -- outdoors -- but they can't actually hold classes in person inside classrooms just yet.
The superintendents expressed great frustration in the state’s decision and said they would review their options and have an update for families Monday.
San Dieguito Union High School District
The ruling comes just days after San Dieguito Union High School District said it planned to resume in-person instruction regardless of the state’s decision.
SDUHSD has had some students return to campus since September 2020, but it had hoped, by Monday, to expand the number of students who would get to return to campus one day a week. The district's plan is to run with somewhat of a hybrid model, where cohorts return on the same day to campus every week. By the fourth quarter, the district's goal is to have the cohorts be able to be on campus two days a week.
But, on Sunday afternoon, Haley told NBC 7: “Unfortunately, without state approval, we will not be able to fully implement our plan.”
He said students assigned to be on campus for online learning are still welcome, but in-person instruction will not happen.
Haley shares this via email with NBC 7 Sunday night:
This evening, we were informed by Governor Newsom’s representative, Dr. Naomi Bardach, Lead of the Safe Schools for All Team for the State of California that our application to expand in-person teaching and learning for students was not approved.
We are incredibly frustrated and angered by this arbitrary and uninformed decision, as the application had the full support of the San Diego County Public Health Officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, and her team, after a thorough review.
This evening I spoke directly with Dr. Naomi Bardach, head of the CDPH Safe Schools for All Team, and Brooks Allen of the State Board of Education to appeal the decision. Dr. Bardach was unwilling to change the ruling and said it was final.
We want everyone to know we stand by our decision to have those students who were assigned to come to school tomorrow to do so. We are reviewing our options and will have an update for families and staff during the day on Monday.
NBC 7 spoke with Haley Monday who said the district had hoped to have thousands of students back on campus this week but now, the in-person plan is on hold.
Haley said he wants support from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I would ask Gov. Newsom to back up his words with action. He said he wants schools to reopen. He said he wants schools to expand opportunities for students to learn in-person,” Haley told NBC 7. “We’re ready. San Dieguito Union High School District is ready. Our public health officer has said we’re ready.”
Haley said he does not agree with Bardach’s decision.
“She doesn’t know our district. She hasn’t been here. She hasn’t visited our schools,” Haley added. “We know what it takes to keep kids safe here. And we can do it.”
Haley said SDUHSD wants the option to run a hybrid model – with just one day a week, two eventually – no more, no less, like other schools are doing in other parts of the county.
“We’re not asking for anything more than that,” he said.
Haley said he plans to call a special board meeting for Tuesday.
Evan Sorem is the father of a 10th grade student at Canyon Crest Academy in SDUHSD and has a son who graduated last June. He told NBC 7 he’s in favor of a “safe and sustainable” plan for reopening but he believes the push to get kids back to in-person learning is moving a bit too fast.
“Consistently we’re pushing the edge, and when we do that, we find that we can’t get to a spot where more kids can come back in a reasonable way,” Sorem told NBC 7 on Monday.
Sorem said the attendance in the district is above 90% as teacher continue to go above and beyond to make sure students are learning – even if it’s via distance learning.
“And kids are learning. Is it an optimal, ideal environment? No. But, the pandemic is not an optimal, ideal environment,” he said.
The dad said he would love to have the option to send his sophomore to school one or two days a week to “prepare for a semblance of normal.”
“I’m concerned now that if we don’t get ourselves into a wise situation of reopening, we’ll have instability – we’ll have openings, closings, and I worry about our readiness then for next year,” Sorem said. “But if we were to start a slow, gradual process that would allow us to prove that we can be successful one day a week, and then several weeks thereafter – maybe two days a week – I think that is something that could work.”
Carlsbad Unified School District
Meanwhile, Churchill shared this letter with NBC 7, which was sent to CUSD families Sunday:
Carlsbad Unified middle school and high school families and staff,
This evening, we were informed by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) that our application to resume in-person teaching and learning for our middle school and high school students was not approved.
We are incredibly frustrated by this decision, as the application had the full support of local public health officials, and was approved by the San Diego County public health officer, Dr Wilma Wooten.
This evening I spoke directly with Dr. Naomi Bardach, head of the CDPH Safe Schools for All Team, to appeal the decision. She was unwilling to change the ruling.
We are reviewing our options and will have an update for families and staff on Monday.
Dr. Ben Churchill
CUSD filed a letter of intent to apply for a waiver for in-person learning back in mid-February. Read more on that here.
Churchill said he was given two reasons for denial. First, the state said the district didn't have enough epidemiological data to support its waiver application.
"We have five months of data showing the layered mitigation strategies we've put in place were effective," he said.
The second reason, according to Churchill, was that the district didn't have a rapid antigen testing system in place.
On Monday, however, Churchill sent out a follow-up note to families, saying the district was moving ahead, in part, regardless of the state's decision:
Carlsbad Unified families and staff,
Last night the California Department of Public Health denied our application to return all middle and high school students to in-person instruction.
However, as shared at our Feb. 17, 2021, meeting of the board of trustees, the current CDPH directive allows schools to offer in-person instruction to students in grades TK through 6th grade. As such, we will implement a hybrid model of in-person instruction for sixth-grade students beginning with students in Cohort A tomorrow (Tuesday, March 9, 2021).
Middle school principals will be in contact shortly with specific information for each school site. The Distance Learning Permanent (DLP) option still remains at Aviara Oaks Middle, Calavera Hills Middle and Valley Middle.
Please also note that students in grades 7 through 12 continue to have the option of returning to campus under the Cohort Supervision Model; please contact your principal if you are not currently participating but would like to be added to an on-campus cohort at this time.
As you may know, a lawsuit has been filed in San Diego Superior Court (Case Number 37-2021-00007536) against Gavin Newsom, and other state officials, regarding the CDPH directives related to in-person instruction. A judge will hear the case on Wednesday morning; we’ll provide an update if the outcome of the hearing changes anything for us.
Dr. Ben Churchill
Poway Unified School District
PUSD had hoped to reopen its middle and high schools for in-person instruction by mid-March.
Kim Pheps sent this letter to PUSD families Sunday:
Dear PUSD Families,
Late this evening, we were informed by Governor Newsom’s representative, Dr. Naomi Bardach, Lead of the Safe Schools for All Team for the State of California that our application to expand in-person teaching and learning for middle and high school students was not approved by the CDPH. We are incredibly frustrated by this arbitrary decision, as the application had the full support of the San Diego County Public Health Officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, and her team, after a thorough review.
This evening I spoke directly with Dr. Bardach to appeal the decision. Dr. Bardach was unwilling to change the ruling and said it was final. She stated that her approval of our application was contingent upon each cohort of students remaining in one classroom with a single teacher for the entire day. This is not possible for our secondary students, as they all have multiple teachers, courses, and schedules. Other North County school districts also submitted appeals to reopen. Their applications were also denied tonight based on this unrealistic condition not being met.
Our plan is to still be able to reopen during the week of March 15. If San Diego County continues its downward trend in case rates, it is projected that our County will be in the red tier by March 16. That would allow us to reopen middle and high schools starting March 17. The County moving into the red tier would allow us to move forward with reopening our middle and high regardless of the CDPH’s decision.
Our District, schools, and staff have worked tirelessly to establish safe reopening plans that adhere to all local and State requirements (COVID-19 School Safety Plan, CDPH checklist, Reopening Guidebook, etc.). We’ve established effective contact tracing and quarantining processes. We’ve added filtration devices and upgraded ventilation systems in all of our classrooms and schools. We've implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols. We've implemented physical distancing and mask requirements. And we have successfully advocated for the prioritization of vaccinations for our staff.
We are committed to ensuring that we are able to welcome our middle and high school students back during the week of March 15. We are confident our reopening plan is comprehensive and addresses all conditions and protocols as required by public health officials. We apologize for the late email, but we wanted you to hear the news as soon as we were made aware. We will continue to keep you informed as we push forward with the reopening of our middle and high schools for our students.
Marian Kim Phelps, Ed.D.
According to state guidelines, if San Diego County moves into the red tier and stays in the red tier for at least two weeks, the schools will be able to resume in-person learning.
Haley said that keeping track of the status of California’s color-coded tier system – and what it means for schools in San Diego County – has been difficult. He just wants students in classrooms.
“Every day is precious; even one day is precious,” he said, referring to students and their education.