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San Diego County Schools Preparing To Welcome Kids Back To Classrooms

Inside of a classroom at Blossom Valley Elementary in El Cajon with plastic d...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: Inside of a classroom at Blossom Valley Elementary in El Cajon with plastic dividers sitting on desks, August 28, 2020.

Parents, teachers and students are getting ready to resume in-person classes as early as Sept. 1 in San Diego County. But there will be changes both inside and outside of the classroom to ensure student safety.

"If they arrive healthy, they’re going to remain healthy and we’re going to send them home healthy at the end of the day," said Kirk Hoeben, principal of Blossom Valley Elementary School in El Cajon.

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Hoeben said he has proven that kids can be taught in-person safely. Over the summer Blossom Valley hosted a summer daycare with no reported cases of COVID-19 among kids of staff.

"[We] had an amazing group of teachers who volunteered to try this out and we were able to bring kids back safely," Hoeben said.

Blossom Valley is part of the Cajon Valley Union School District and plans to welcome kids back after Labor Day weekend. Some schools in the district are set to begin limited in-person instruction on Sept. 1.

Hoeben said they learned a lot from summer daycare.

Reported by Matt Hoffman , Video by Andi Dukleth

"The daily arrival and departure of kids, I think, was one of the greatest challenges because normally you’re not having to pay attention to things like social distancing or do kids have masks," he said.

Inside the classrooms at Blossom Valley, desks are spaced apart and each has clear plastic dividers sitting on top. Individual classes will be isolated from each other, so children can still go out for activities like recess.

"We know schools are a social place. But I don't think we realized how important — how critical that social element is both for kids and family," Hoeben said.

All this is an effort to make the return to the classroom feel as normal as possible, while protecting kids and families from the virus.

"The majority of our school district wants to go back to school," said Cajon Valley Trustee Jim Miller referencing surveys sent home to parents.

To make in-person instruction possible, all students and staff will be required to wear face coverings, and temperature checks will also be conducted daily. The district with more than 16,000 students has been doing classes virtually for about a week now with positive results.

"Are there going to be hiccups? Absolutely. There’s hiccups everyday in every profession, whether there’s a pandemic or not," said Miller. "The question is, 'How do you overcome them?'"

RELATED: Schools Remain Cautious Even As San Diego Moves Off State’s COVID-19 Monitoring List

Just a few miles away in Lakeside at Lakeview Elementary, preparations were also underway this week to welcome students back to campus.

"The bottom line is that our system is not really designed to function this way, so we’re reworking all of our systems," said Lakeside Union School District Superintendent Andy Johnsen.

Johnsen said in Lakeside, they are doing things a little differently. His district is committing to at least four weeks of distance learning. Classes started online last week, and as in Cajon Valley, officials are giving parents the option to return to in-person learning near the end of September.

"We felt it was very important to give parents a choice. So those parents who want to stay in distanced learning all year long have that option," Johnson said.

Lakeside Union has over 5,000 students and they too are require all staff and students to wear face coverings. Students will also be encouraged to wash their hands every hour to hour and a half. Restrooms will be cleaned hourly and classrooms nightly.

With the increased sanitation efforts, Johnsen said the district is in the process of hiring more custodial staff.

Schools have also been asked to limit high-touch areas.

"Our water fountains are turned off, and all the kids will have a bottle filling stations where kids can get their water," Johnsen said.

Inside classrooms at Lakeview, there are no plastic dividers like there are at Blossom Valley. But desks are spaced apart, all facing forward.

Lakeside Union will also be doing daily temperature checks for students and staff. That also applies to people coming into the office.

If a student feels sick or is showing symptoms of the virus, they will be isolated on campus.

In terms of possible closures, that could happen to individual classes if 5% of students get the virus.

"That classroom would automatically shut down for 14 days," said Paul Gothold, superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education. "If you’re talking about an individual school — again 5% is the metric."

Individual school districts will communicate with parents if a student tests positive or there is an outbreak.

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Matt Hoffman
Health Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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