San Diego Unified School District will let parents choose how their kids learn this fall

Skyler Smith prepares for preschool in the San Diego Unified School District.
The San Diego Unified School District plans to let families choose from two options this fall: full in-person learning, and distance learning with options for onsite activities.

The San Diego Unified School District board approved a fall reopening plan June 16 that will let families choose from two options: full in-person learning, and distance learning with options for onsite activities.

Distance-learning students would have four days a week of live and pre-recorded instruction and one day a week to catch up on assignments.

Onsite offerings for distance learners would include science labs, career technical courses, special-education services, teacher office hours, physical education, community college courses and internships.

Sofia Friere, the district’s chief of leadership and learning, said the district will incorporate more-engaging activities such as hands-on projects, group discussions and enrichment.

For in-person instruction, San Diego Unified will have daily temperature checks for students and staff, staggered arrival and dismissal times, physical barriers to maintain distances in classrooms and more.

The district didn’t say whether masks would be required, but the San Diego County Office of Education said June 17 that schools should prepare as if masks will be mandatory for all students and staff on campus.

School districts are getting ready to reopen in the fall from campus closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. A county health order issued June 15 allows schools in San Diego County to hold classes on campus as long as they comply with state reopening guidelines and post detailed reopening plans.

Several county school districts anticipate some version of blended learning, with part of their instruction taking place on campus in smaller-than-usual classes and the rest occurring at home online.

Some districts say they also may offer a parallel track consisting exclusively of online instruction for students who need stricter health protections or whose parents prefer a more cautious approach.

But it’s still unclear whether all schools will be financially able to physically reopen or whether sufficient contact tracing or COVID-19 testing will happen by the fall to help keep schools open safely, some San Diego Unified School District leaders say.

State legislators passed a budget proposal June 15 that would reverse Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed cuts to education, but it is unlikely to become law.

The proposal is enough to keep schools open for only half the school year, San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten said during a board workshop June 16.

San Diego Unified would need additional federal money to open for all of next school year, or it would have to revert to distance learning for the second half of the year, said board President John Lee Evans.

“We could be stopped in our tracks by inadequate funding from the state or by insufficient funding from the federal government,” he said. “But we can’t wait any longer to begin planning for the next year.”

State guidance for schools requires face masks for staff, encouraging students to wear masks, daily temperature checks for students and staff and physical distancing. That can include staggering start times and keeping students in the same space all day with the same teacher.

Despite the many issues with distance learning, surveys conducted by some school districts show not all parents want five-days-a-week, in-person school in the fall.

Dozens of parents submitted public comments about reopening to San Diego Unified’s board. Most urged schools to reopen to stop learning loss and to support students’ mental health.

Other parents said they are afraid to send children back to school, and some said there is not enough COVID-19 testing happening to reopen safely. Several said their children are medically at risk or live with family members who are.