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San Diego Private, Public Schools Have Differing Rules On In-Person Teaching

Francis Parker School in Linda Vista in this file photo from Aug. 20, 2020.
Mike Damron
Francis Parker School in Linda Vista in this file photo from Aug. 20, 2020.

A local private school's decision to change its policy on whether teachers are required to teach in-person classes shows the varying rules for teachers across the county. While some private schools say teachers can't work remotely unless they have a personal medical exemption, public school teachers may be given that option.

After a week of outrage from students, parents and alumni, the Francis Parker School in the Linda Vista neighborhood announced teachers would be allowed to work remotely through March.

San Diego Private, Public Schools Have Differing Rules On In-Person Teaching
Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

At first, the school said only teachers with personal medical concerns could work remotely. Two teachers with high-risk family members then announced they would resign, which led to student protests.

“I think after they realized the students weren’t going to stop because we kept going even after the weekend had passed,” said Amitha Devanaboyina, a junior at Francis Parker. “And because they feared a boycott, I think they finally realized maybe we should just extend this exemption for the next trimester.”

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VIDEO: San Diego Private School Reverses Rule On In-Person Teaching

Head of School Kevin Yaley made the announcement about the reversal in an email to students and parents. Yaley did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Other local private schools have also adopted similar policies, requiring teachers to work in-person even if they have immunocompromised family.

At The Grauer School in Encinitas, Stuart Grauer, the head of the school, said teachers are expected to instruct from the classroom, but he said none of his staff have expressed concerns.

“Nobody has an issue,” he said. “You have to understand we have been spending the last nine months creating and reinventing what school looks like and feels like.”

The school has constructed 16 outdoor classrooms and installed high-end ventilation systems to protect students and teachers.

According to Orly Lobel, a law professor at the University of San Diego, employers such as Francis Parker and The Grauer School are only required to make exemptions if the employee is at a higher risk of having a severe case of COVID-19. That’s because the federal Americans With Disabilities Act does not mandate an exemption for family members.

“In general, our protective laws that have to do with disability and safety and health focus for the most part on the individual herself, and not on family members,” she said. “These schools can decide that they’re only going to allow exemptions from in-person learning or teaching to people who themselves have a health condition and not to those who report they have family members.”

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Despite the legality, Lobel said employers and policymakers have a “moral imperative” to allow employees living with people more vulnerable to COVID-19 to work remotely.

“With an upcoming vaccine, we’re not talking about an infinite time of this reasonable accommodation,” she said. “The Americans With Disabilities Act didn’t really contemplate this reality of such an infectious disease that puts at-risk family members.”

At San Diego Unified, the county’s largest public school district, officials say teachers with at-risk family members will receive accommodations.

“If somebody’s living with somebody who’s immunocompromised or has underlying health conditions, we’ll certainly take that into account in the ADA accommodations process,” said Richard Barrera, vice president of the school board at San Diego Unified.

That could mean a lot of teachers ask to work remotely or be reassigned to other positions. But Barrera said he’s confident all district teachers will be able to feel safe at work, whether they’re in the classroom or working from home.

The San Diego VA is making access to mental health care harder for local veterans, outraging therapists who say the agency’s actions are dangerous and irresponsible. Meanwhile, San Diego hospitals are bracing for a surge in COVID-19 cases that could exhaust medical staff and resources. Also, Supervisors are taking action, approving more funding for an income replacement program.