Pacific Beach schools, parents and students prepare for April 12 re-opening

Pacific Beach Elementary and other public schools are scheduled to reopen on April 12.
Pacific Beach Elementary and other public schools are scheduled to reopen on April 12.
(Photo courtesy San Diego Unified School District )

Although the San Diego Unified School District has an agreement with its teachers union and other stakeholders to reopen campuses April 12 — provided the county stays out of the most-restrictive coronavirus tier and school staff get access to COVID-19 vaccinations — there are still challenges ahead.

“While we are excited to welcome our students back to campus, we know that there may be some apprehension,” said Jennifer Grondek, principal of Pacific Beach Elementary School. “Most of our students have not been on campus in more than a year.”

To prepare for the reopening, Grondek said small groups of students, staff and families have been visiting campus since October to help the elementary school develop and tweak new campus protocols.

“Teachers have been designing safe ways for students to play on our playgrounds, take water breaks, visit the restrooms and more,” she said. “While seeking input from students and families, we have refined our procedures to keep our school safe.”

Pacific Beach Elementary students, staff and families have been working to develop and tweak new COVID-19 campus protocols.
Pacific Beach Elementary students, staff and families have been working to develop and tweak new COVID-19 campus protocols.
(Photo courtesy San Diego Unified School District )

The main focus has been ensuring adequate fresh air in all classrooms, she said. The school has added MERV 13 filters to their heating and air conditioning system and put portable air purifiers in classrooms.

“And we have the opportunity to keep our doors and windows open,” Grondek said. “We are lucky to live in beautiful Pacific Beach, where most of the year we can count on beautiful weather.”

When it comes to social distancing, Grondek said that staff members are teaching students new ways to greet each other from six feet apart, including giving two thumbs up, showing a peace sign, and placing a hand over their heart.

Bonnie Franklin and Becca Horowitz, chair and chair-elect of Mission Bay Cluster, said they are looking forward to the school re-openings. Both women are parents of students who attend, or have previously attended, Pacific Beach Elementary, Pacific Beach Middle and Mission Bay High schools.

They noted they do not speak for the San Diego Unified School District.

Franklin and Horowitz said they are confident in the preparation by administrative leaders of the Mission Bay Cluster. However, a smooth and successful transition is not guaranteed, especially since it relies on the cooperation of the entire community, they said.

“The biggest concern for students returning to campus is a question: ‘Can we make it through to the end of the year without being shut down again?’” Franklin and Horowitz said in an email. “Our students, faculty and staff have had many demands placed on them this past year, it would be extremely frustrating to have any progress in a return to normalcy taken away.”

Nearly a year after San Diego Unified closed its campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s second-largest district announced plans Feb. 23 to reopen schools for all grade levels the week of April 12, with the contingencies for staff vaccinations and the county staying out of the purple tier.

Currently, the district is offering on-campus instruction only for at-risk students for appointment-based learning or supervised learning labs.

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

On March 14, the district announced new details about the hybrid schedule, which would allow some students to return to campus four days a week for six hours each day. District officials said they will work with principals to create “specific models” for each campus.

“While a hybrid schedule is still difficult for many working families, this represents a step in the right direction,” San Diego Mayor Todd 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 distance learning.

Horowitz and Franklin said they foresee a challenge of maintaining the balance between students who have elected to remain fully online and those who will be learning on campus. Additionally, they said they are unsure if the new hybrid model will be worth it for the students.

“The hybrid model offers our secondary school age student two four-hour days on campus for the remaining nine weeks of school,” they said. “It remains to be seen if the disruption of having to adjust to a new schedule and another set of behaviors will result in meaningful education.”

The district said in a recent statement that “administration is doing everything possible to vaccinate our workforce,” though school staff will not be required to get vaccinated to go back to work, Barrera said.

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

Staff members 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.

Schools’ return to in-person learning will begin the district’s work of helping students recover from the pandemic and school closures, Barrera said.

“One of the most significant challenges to re-opening will be evaluating the learning loss or learning lag that has occurred due to full-time online instruction for more than a calendar year,” Franklin and Horowitz said in the email.

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

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer David Hernandez contributed to this story