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San Diego Unified Has Plan For Reopening Schools, But Needs More Funding

The outside of the San Diego Unified School District Education Center is shown on May 8, 2018.
Megan Wood
The outside of the San Diego Unified School District Education Center is shown on May 8, 2018.
The school board wants a full reopening with more staff and smaller class sizes, but the state and federal governments haven’t yet guaranteed that there will be money to pay for it all.

After months of school closures, the San Diego Unified School District on Tuesday evening approved a plan for reopening amid the ongoing pandemic.

It’s still far from certain, however, whether the district will have the money it needs to fully implement the plan.

Under the plan, unanimously approved by the board during a virtual meeting, students will have the option to be on campus for full school days with social distancing and smaller class sizes. Students whose families have health concerns or are not comfortable returning to school would have the option of distance learning. A hybrid model will also be available.

“The outline we’re sharing with the board today emphasizes flexibility,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said. “We know parents want to have both on-campus and online options.”

The district, however, has only secured enough federal and state funding to keep schools open for half of the 2020-2021 school year.

“Our preference would be to have it for the full year,” said John Lee Evans, president of the school board. “Worst case scenario, for the second half of the year, we would have to revert back to distance learning.”

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Tuesday’s meeting started with an hour of public comment from parents. The commenters were divided between those who urged the district to reopen schools and those who said it was too early for students to return to campuses.

“It is imperative for the general educational and emotional well-being of the 121,000 San Diego Unified School District students that normal classroom instruction be resumed immediately,” wrote one member of the public.

Others were more reluctant to reopen schools.

“We have immuno-compromised people at home and we cannot bring the virus home when school opens,” said another commenter.

In compliance with state guidelines released last week, the district’s plan will require schools to conduct daily temperature checks and social distancing. Handwashing and sanitizing stations will be erected throughout campuses. Schools will allow fewer visitors and assemblies. Windows will be kept open to better ventilate classrooms and cafeterias.

Board Vice President Richard Barrera said he feels schools urgently need to reopen to minimize learning loss but understands the concerns.

“I will support a scenario that will allow for a full reopening of all schools, all day, every day with an option for high quality online learning for students or staff who are not yet comfortable coming back,” said Richard Barrera, vice president of San Diego Unified’s school board.

While the board approved the over-arching plan, it will be up to individual schools to decide on the details for what the instructional days will look like.

Barrera said the district would need to hire more teachers and staff. He said the district’s facilities staff are working to allocate more classroom space if necessary.

The need for more personnel and facilities, Barrera said, depends on how many students at each individual school site decide to come to campuses in the fall rather than continuing distance learning.

Those details are still pending as San Diego Unified officials await more state guidelines and hopefully more funding.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Cindy Marten applauded the budget approved this week by the California state legislature, which reversed $12 billion in cuts to education proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“We appreciate the bold action taken by the Legislature to reverse all spending cuts contained in the May Budget Revision,” she said. “ We urge Governor Newsom to sign this budget and approve a final compromise that gives schools the funds we will need to open in a safe, responsible manner this fall.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Evans said the state legislature’s version of the budget needs to be supplemented with federal funding.

“Now, it is time for the federal government to do its fair share,” he said. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a national emergency that warrants a national response. The federal government simply cannot leave an entire generation of school students to fend for themselves in the face of this growing tragedy.”

Barrera said one of the most expensive guidelines is transportation. The state recommends that buses transport less than half of their full capacities. He said the districts would need more buses and more drivers to comply with this guidance.

“To provide the same transportation would require so many extra drivers and extra buses,” he said. “That just becomes absolutely cost-prohibitive.”

The governor and state legislature could reach an agreement on the state budget within the next few days. San Diego Unified’s own budget must be finalized by June 30.

San Diego Unified Has Plan For Reopening Schools, But Needs More Funding
Listen to this story by Joe Hong.