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San Diego Unified School District Targets April 12 Return to Classrooms

The Montgomery Middle School sign is pictured, Feb. 17, 2021.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: The Montgomery Middle School sign is pictured, Feb. 17, 2021.

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San Diego Unified School District leaders announced a targeted date of April 12 to allow students of all grade levels to return to the classroom.

Aired: February 25, 2021 | Transcript

San Diego Unified School District leaders announced Tuesday that they have set a targeted date of April 12 to allow students of all grade levels to return to the classroom.

The news comes nearly a year after the district closed its schools due to the pandemic, but would only take place provided that the county drops into the red tier of the state's COVID-19 monitoring system.

Under the plan, teachers — who will have the choice to be vaccinated — will return to classrooms a week before then, on April 5. The plan is a hybrid model and students will have the option to continue learning from home. COVID-19 safety protocols will continue to be observed on campuses indefinitely, officials said.

Board of Education President Richard Barrera said the plan is to bring all grade levels back after spring break, provided the vaccination schedule holds up and case rates continue to decrease. As of Tuesday, San Diego County had an adjusted case rate of 15 per 100,000 people, which puts the region in the state's purple tier of its four-tiered reopening plan.

RELATED: California Will Begin Setting Aside 10% Of COVID-19 Vaccine Doses For Teachers

"Our plan to reopen classrooms in April is the result of groundbreaking collaboration between our city, our county and our professional educators," Barrera said. "From the start of this crisis, we have remained committed to reopening when it was safe and responsible to do so. Full vaccinations for educators are part of that safety plan, and we are very grateful for our regional partners helping us to achieve this goal."

District officials presented the new plan during Tuesday's school board meeting. Most parents who spoke during the meeting applauded the plan for prioritizing public health and safety. But s significant number criticized the district for not opening sooner.

"Each day is a day my seven year old is battling me through tears as I beg him to sit for three hours of Zoom," said Olivia Moffit. "We will persevere until April 12, but please recognize that any delay will be a struggle for so many families."

To fall in the required red tier, the county must report fewer than seven cases per 100,000 people. It's far from guaranteed to be in that metric by April, but the case rate has greatly declined in recent weeks. As recently as the first week of February, the county's rate was nearly 50 cases per 100,000.

San Diego has offered to make emergency medical personnel available to help administer vaccines to educators, and the county has said teacher vaccinations could begin as soon as Monday.

Reported by Joe Hong , Video by Matthew Bowler

Barrera acknowledged the toll the pandemic has taken on students, families and district staff.

"In the past year, our country has lost 500,000 people to this terrible disease, and we know our young people have also felt its effects, through lost loved ones, and also through lost opportunities," he said. "We also know this loss has not impacted all communities equally, and our historically disadvantaged students have suffered the most from the COVID-19 crisis.

"It is up to all of us to give them back their future — not only on the day we reopen classrooms, but on each day afterwards by renewing California's commitment to equity in education," Barrera continued.

Nearly 4,000 students in the district are visiting schools for scheduled learning appointments and more will soon be returning to an upwards of 500 learning labs, which are scheduled to open in the weeks before the full reopening.

However, these opportunities are largely designed to support students who face severe obstacles to online learning, Barrera said. They include students experiencing homelessness, English language learners and many special education students. He described these efforts as important, but insufficient given the extraordinary level of need.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the targeted date was a welcome relief and added the county would do what it could to ensure that reopening date was possible.

"Getting our kids back in the classroom is one of our highest priorities and I want to commend San Diego Unified and the San Diego Education Association for reaching this agreement," Fletcher said. "At the county, we will do everything possible to get our school staff vaccinated so our classrooms can be open to in-person learning."

Mayor Todd Gloria called on Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month to prioritize vaccines for teachers and for districts to begin to reopen schools safely.

"I want to thank San Diego Unified for providing a clear timeline on getting kids back in the classroom and, more importantly, providing parents with some certainty," he said. "This news provides some relief to parents who have had to juggle multiple roles during the pandemic.

"While a hybrid schedule is still difficult for many working families, this represents a step in the right direction. 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," Gloria said.

The district board will meet Tuesday night to discuss reopening plans.

KPBS reporter Joe Hong contributed to this story.

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