The Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) announced Monday at-home learning will continue through at least 2020, affecting tens of thousands of middle and high school students.
The SUHSD noted in a statement to families that the decision was made due to a lack of decline in San Diego County's case rate, especially in the South Bay region, where the district is located.
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"Although it had been our hope that we might see lower infection rates in San Diego County, and in particular our South Bay region, instead the most recent data shows that we are in danger of moving back into higher risk categories. This is even more pronounced in our region, where infection rates are significantly higher than other regions of San Diego County," the message read.
"It is with this information, and with our continued commitment to the safety of our students, families, and staff, that we announce the continuation of distance learning for the remainder of the semester through December 2020."
The district is also looking into ways they may be able to offer support to families with higher-need students and ways they may be able to restart some extracurriculars in a phased approach, but reiterated that it depended on the county's current COVID-19 conditions and metrics outlined by the state.
A group calling itself Re-Open Sweetwater Schools, however, told NBC 7 that students need to be back at school now.
Matt and Kimberly Dickson are parents of two students at Mar Vista High in Imperial Beach, and both are physicians in the community.
“It’s just not the education kids are missing out on -- there’s problems when parents aren’t home,” Matt said.
He and Kimberly said they are seeing an increase in the number of drug overdose cases, suicide attempts, depression.
“Kids are depressed, families are having trouble, they’re struggling financially and emotionally,” Matt said.
‘What we’re asking for is for some children to be allowed to return to campus if they choose to, if their families feel it’s safe and make the choice for them," Kimberly said. "It’s not a one size fits all approach."
Interim Superintendent Moises Aguirre acknowledged in a survey that two-thirds of parents want some sort of in-person learning, whether hybrid or full-time.
Aguirre said there are multiple considerations that need to be taken into account.
“For us it's a gradual approach, not a switch that is on and off," Aguirre said. "There’s lots of planning with our transportation, we need to make sure we’re building inventories of face coverings and face shields, that's part of our thought process.”
The Sweetwater Union High School District began the fall semester on Aug. 3 with students scheduled to have three 90-minute virtual lessons a day that includes interaction with their teachers. When announced, the method was going to be used until at least mid-October. It is unclear if the system will change now that classes will be online through the winter break.
The move comes a day before San Diego County is expected to enter Tier 1, the most restrictive tier, of Gov. Gavin Newsom's new reopening plan.
When the color-coded tier system was announced on Aug. 28, San Diego County was the only Southern California county to be in the less restrictive Tier 2. But that changed as colleges returned to school and hundreds of cases were found among San Diego State University Students. The surge in cases is likely to revert the region to more restrictions, including the closure of indoor dining, gyms and worship services.
There is some confusion between the county and the state when it comes to what Tier 1 would mean for San Diego County schools, leaving the ability to go back to school for in-person learning in limbo for many.
The district will reassess on Nov. 30 the ability for schools to begin in-person learning when the spring 2021 semester begins.