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Most School Reopening Requests Are From Private Schools, Raising Equity Concerns

The La Jolla Country Day School, Aug. 14, 2020.
Andi Dukleth
The La Jolla Country Day School, Aug. 14, 2020.

Mid-July, Gov. Gavin Newsom said elementary schools and their districts could request a waiver to reopen even if their county is on the state’s monitoring list for high rates of COVID-19 infections.

So far, the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency has received 56 requests from county schools. All but five are from private schools.

Most School Reopening Requests Are From Private Schools, Raising Equity Concerns
Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

The list of schools requesting waivers reflects the ongoing inequities facing education during the pandemic.

Consider that the only two public school districts to apply for a waiver are Rancho Santa Fe Elementary and Del Mar Union, where less than 10% of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Compare that to 51% in San Diego County overall.

One of the waiver requests came from the pricey and prestigious La Jolla Country Day School.

“We’re gonna test every student, every faculty member, every staff member before they come to campus,” said Gary Krahn, the head of school at La Jolla Country Day.

The school, which currently serves more than 1,100 students, has a robust reopening plan in place for when students are allowed to come back. Krahn said it will offer hybrid programs that would allow some students and teachers to work from home. Students who do come to campus will not spend much time indoors.

“We’re not allowing any student or faculty to be inside for over 25 to 30 minutes. Half of our classes are going to be outside,” he said. “We have spent a lot of resources creating outdoor classrooms and creating the ventilation inside as well.”

RELATED: Despite Newsom’s Mandate, Some Elementary Schools Might Be Able To Reopen

VIDEO: Most School Reopening Requests Are From Private Schools, Raising Equity Concerns

Despite his staff’s preparedness, Krahn said the school might wait before allowing elementary-age students to return to campus even if the waiver request is granted.

“Even though we might have the opportunity to reopen, we’re gonna look at where this disease is in our community,” he said. “We’re gonna look at the information we have at the time.”

With tuition of about $30,000 for students in elementary grades, La Jolla Country Day is among the few schools able to provide such a COVID-ready learning environment.

Schools that serve more vulnerable student populations rarely have the same resources. In addition, students from low-income families and students of color are more likely to experience learning loss. Their families are more likely to suffer the economic consequences of the pandemic.

“Being able to have a waiver for students in and of itself is not problematic,” said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of The Education Trust-West, a think tank studying equity in education. “What does get problematic are the resources associated with actually being able to implement it, and which schools can do that and which schools cannot.”

RELATED: Gov. Newsom Outlines Strict Guidelines For Schools

While Smith Arrillaga does not blame private schools for being able to provide more for their students, she said the federal government needs to provide more funding to mitigate the inequities in public education.

Smith Arrillaga said she hopes well-resourced schools that are able to reopen sooner could help less-resourced public schools by sharing best practices for safe reopening.

“If there are things schools are learning about how to do this safely, and if there are ways we can be sharing that across schools, I think that could be really powerful,” she said. “That’s actually what equity looks like.”

La Jolla Country Day School is more than willing to help, Krahn said. He points to the school’s partnership with Rady’s Children’s Hospital to provide researchers with routine testing data from their asymptomatic faculty and staff.

“If we fulfill our responsibility to move a little ahead and be in front of the curve and share that with other schools and be a resource to them,” he said, “then we’re playing an important role in our communities.”