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San Diego Unified sets April 12 target date for reopening schools

A student boards the bus at Lafayette Elementary School in San Diego in October
A student boards the bus to go home after finishing his day, on the first day of limited in-person learning at Lafayette Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020 in San Diego.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Date is contingent on school staff getting access to both vaccine doses and on county getting out of purple tier

Nearly a year after San Diego Unified closed its schools due to the pandemic, the state’s second-largest district plans to reopen schools for all grade levels the week of April 12 — but that target date is contingent on the county getting out of the most-restrictive purple tier and on school staff getting access to both COVID vaccine doses, the district announced Tuesday.

The district set this target date after being told by San Diego County officials that the county will open up COVID vaccinations to school staff and other essential workers starting Monday, San Diego Unified Board President Richard Barrera said. The district struck an agreement for the April 12 target date with its teachers union, the San Diego Education Association, on Monday night, Barrera added.

“Getting our kids back in the classroom is one of our highest priorities and I want to commend San Diego Unified and the San Diego Education Association for reaching this agreement,” County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said in a statement. “At the County, we will do everything possible to get our school staff vaccinated so our classrooms can be open to in-person learning.”

The district’s announcement also drew praise from Mayor Todd Gloria.

“I want to thank San Diego Unified for providing a clear timeline on getting kids back in the classroom and, more importantly, providing parents with some certainty,” Gloria said in a statement. “This news provides some relief to parents who have had to juggle multiple roles during the pandemic.

The district plans to call staff back to school the week of April 5, right after spring break, Barrera said.

Then all students who wish to attend school in-person would get the chance the following week.

The district will reopen in hybrid learning, meaning students can attend in-person part of the week or part of the school day and will continue distance learning for the rest of the time. Many districts in the county are using hybrid learning to reduce the number of students on campus at a time, to allow for social distancing.

“While a hybrid schedule is still difficult for many working families, this represents a step in the right direction,” Gloria said. “I will keep working with and urging the school district officials, teachers and stakeholders to continue making progress toward getting our kids back in the classroom full time.”

Families who wish to keep their students at home would be able to continue in distance learning.

In addition to vaccines, the district’s plan is contingent on San Diego County getting and staying out of the purple tier, which means the county case rate must fall and remain below 7 per 100,000 residents.

“We’re confident that we can meet both those goals because the declining case rate gives us confidence that we will be out of the purple tier well before mid-April,” Barrera said. “So, provided that the rollout of the vaccine goes well, we think we’ll be able to meet that timeline.”

As of Tuesday the county case rate is 15 per 100,000. The rate has been on the decline for several weeks.

San Diego Unified school staff will not be required to get the vaccine to go back to work, Barrera said.

The district will provide accommodations, such as working from home, for school staff with underlying health conditions or immediate family members with health conditions.

Staff who do not have underlying conditions or immediate family with conditions will be required to work in-person, even if they do not want to get the vaccine, Barrera said.

Once San Diego Unified schools return in-person, that will begin the district’s necessary work of helping students recover from more than a year of the pandemic and school closures, Barrera said.

“We have to help students overcome the challenges that they’ve faced over the last year, and that’s everything from academic loss to social and emotional trauma,” Barrera said.

San Diego Unified intends to offer an expanded summer school program to help with learning loss.

The district does not plan to extend the school year, which is a commonly proposed learning loss solution, because some parents will not want to have a longer school year, Barrera said.

Other potential solutions include offering increased after-school academic help to students and mental health supports, Barrera said.

“It’s been a long time and the most challenging year that students have ever faced, and that’s why we’re so focused on the recovery and getting them back on track,” Barrera said.

Updates:

4:37 PM, Feb. 23, 2021: This story was updated to reflect new case rate and tier information released Tuesday.

4:37 PM, Feb. 23, 2021: This story was updated with a statement from the mayor and information about hybrid learning.


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