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COVID-19 Surge, Staff Shortages Prompt Poway Unified To Delay Reopening

The Poway Unified School District's main office.

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: The Poway Unified School District's main office.

In more disappointing news for some parents and teachers, Poway Unified School District officials voted Thursday to delay reopening elementary schools by two weeks until Feb. 1. High schools could be closed even longer.

The decision was made in response to the growing number of cases in the region as well as the increase in positive cases among students and staff at the district.

While there has been no spread of COVID-19 on Poway Unified’s campuses, groups of employees have had to quarantine for two weeks after coming into contact with coworkers who tested positive. School officials said the district currently doesn’t have the substitute staffing necessary to cover the absences they anticipate in the coming weeks.

RELATED: Gov. Gavin Newsom Offers Plans To Reopen In-Person Schools

“The surge in cases, the staffing shortages, we just didn’t feel like we could reopen our schools safely by the targeted date of Jan. 19,” District Spokeswoman Christine Paik said.

During a meeting that went late into the night, the Poway Unified School District’s board voted to push back elementary school reopenings by two weeks.

The district originally planned to resume in-person instruction for younger students next week.

“Following the winter break, we had about 70 cases reported to us in a week,” Paik said. “You can imagine the domino effect of staffing issues that would have resulted in all the quarantines and illnesses.”

Teachers and other employees voiced their support for the decision during Thursday night’s meeting.

“The board must acknowledge the reality of our situation,” said Kodi Keller, a teacher at Twin Peaks Middle School. “There is a narrative being perpetuated that teachers are the reasons why we cannot return to campus. This is simply untrue. We cannot return to campus because the case rate within our county that makes it unsafe to do so.”

RELATED: San Dieguito School District Board Reverses Decision To Reopen In January

But some parents criticized the district for what they saw as constantly changing reopening plans.

“We’ve seen that our children when they’re physically attending school, feel happier, they’re more connected, they’re more responsive, they’re more responsible. They accomplish more when their teacher is there in real-time,” said Laarissa Carey, who has five children attending school in the district.

The district had planned to reopen middle and high schools on Feb. 17 but adjusted those plans after the state announced new guidelines on Thursday. According to the new rules, Poway can reopen middle and high schools only once the county is out of the most restrictive purple tier for COVID-19 cases.

“It’s extremely frustrating, not only for our parents and our students but for us as a district and staff,” said Paik. “We make plans, and we believe these plans are in accordance with state guidelines, and then the guidelines are changed. This has happened to us repeatedly during the pandemic, and yesterday was no exception.”

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Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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