Questions remain about when most Pacific Beach students will return to in-person learning
The private St. Paul’s Lutheran School has received approval for a reopening waiver, but the future remains unclear for public schools in San Diego Unified’s Mission Bay Cluster.
When or whether schools will reopen classrooms in the 2020-21 academic year has been a guessing game for many Pacific Beach students and parents.
The majority of schools in Pacific Beach are public and belong to the Mission Bay Cluster of the San Diego Unified School District.
San Diego Unified originally planned in June to open the school year Aug. 31 with in-person, online and hybrid learning options. However, that changed July 13 when the district announced it would start the year with online-only learning because of concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Then on Aug. 10, the district said it had decided to use stricter reopening standards than the state and might not reopen campuses for months.
On July 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order banning in-person classes in many California counties, including San Diego County, until spiking coronavirus cases subside and meet state criteria.
However, a loophole soon emerged for elementary grade levels. Public and private schools serving students in kindergarten through sixth grade were eligible to apply for a waiver to reopen for in-person instruction, even if higher grades couldn’t. All applicants were required to publish their reopening plans online, as well as consult labor, parent and community organizations about the decision.
San Diego Unified was eligible to apply on behalf of its schools serving K-6, which include Barnard Mandarin Magnet Elementary School and Kate Sessions and Pacific Beach elementary schools. But since the district had already decided to start the school year online, it did not submit an application.
But 110 schools, the vast majority of them private, did apply. One of them was St. Paul’s Lutheran, a private school in Pacific Beach. Its waiver application received San Diego County’s approval Aug. 20.
The county closed the application process for waivers Aug. 24, anticipating that they might not be necessary. All area schools serving K-12 would be allowed to reopen, at their discretion, if the county stayed off the state COVID-19 watch list through a 14-day period ending Sept. 1 by not crossing any of six coronavirus thresholds, including keeping its case rate below 100 per 100,000 people.
Forty-two waiver applications countywide were approved as of Aug. 25.
“We feel that due to our size and resources, we are in a better position to reopen safely for our students,” St. Paul’s Lutheran School Principal Meredith Binnie said in an email to PB Monthly. “Our parents and teachers are supportive. We are taking the virus very seriously but also understand the educational, social and emotional needs of the students.”
St. Paul’s, which begins its 2020-21 academic year on Wednesday, Sept. 2, has about 100 K-6 students enrolled (it also serves seventh and eighth grades, but the waiver plan applied only to K-6).
According to St. Paul’s website, its proposed reopening safety measures include daily screenings, smaller classes, desk shields for each student, plexiglass shields for teachers and an increased cleaning schedule.
The school’s Safe Reopening Plan states that parents will be asked to screen children daily before drop-off, and a second screening by the school is required before entering the campus. Students experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough or chills, are not allowed on campus. If a student starts presenting symptoms at school, he or she will be sent home.
All students are expected to practice healthy hygiene habits, including proper hand-washing and using their own school supplies, as well as follow safety protocols such as wearing masks (required in grades 3-6; recommended in K-2) and practicing social distancing.
Before submitting the waiver application Aug. 7, St. Paul’s sent surveys to parents and staff members about its reopening plans and provided regular updates throughout the process, Binnie said. St. Paul’s has been working on reopening plans since the end of June and consulted with teachers and county officials, according to the school.
Given San Diego Unified’s announcement that the district’s campuses may not reopen for months, the county’s removal from the watch list likely won’t have an immediate effect on most Pacific Beach schools.
When the district does resume in-person instruction, it plans to reopen campuses in phases. San Diego Unified’s in-house physician, Dr. Howard Taras, said the district should start by serving only the neediest students in elementary schools.
A district Back to School Guide for 2020-21 is available at sandiegounified.org/back_to_school_guide_2020-21.