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Sweetwater Board Votes On School Reopening Plan As North County Districts See Theirs Curtailed

A man walking by the Sweetwater Union Hgh School District Education Center in...

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: A man walking by the Sweetwater Union Hgh School District Education Center in Chula Vista on Aug. 3, 2020.

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Sweetwater Union High in the South Bay could soon have up to 10% of its students back on campuses, but Poway Unified and others will have to hold off on ... Read more →

Aired: March 9, 2021 | Transcript

School districts in South San Diego County are taking steps toward reopening for in-person instruction. Meanwhile, the state has stalled plans by districts in the North County for reopening middle and high schools.

Sweetwater Union High School District trustees on Monday night approved a reopening plan that would allow 10% of students to return under certain criteria. The plan is the result of weeks of negotiations between the district and the teachers union.

Reported by Joe Hong , Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

“Children who are special ed, children who are from low-income homes and students who are language learners — those are our big three,” said Julie Walker, president of the district’s teachers union. “They will get first availability for any open slots that are there, we’ll offer it to all of them.”

Sweetwater’s ZIP codes have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic in San Diego County. Case rates have been higher in these communities both because of crowded living conditions and because they are home to large numbers of essential workers.

RELATED: La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board Member Faces Racist Threats And Recall

The district’s plan requires that San Diego County gets to the red tier for COVID-19 case rates or lower, that ZIP codes within its borders have an average 14-day case total of less than 200 and have a positivity rate of less than 8% for 14 consecutive days. Right now, San Diego County remains in the most-restrictive purple tier and Sweetwater's ZIP codes are above these markers.

“I’m hoping our spring break goes well and we don’t get alot of community spread,” Walker said. “I’m encouraged by the fact that our ZIP codes are catching up to the county average.”

Chula Vista Elementary School District also announced last week that it is preparing for partial in-person instruction after April 5.

Meanwhile, state officials put the brakes on reopening plans in three North County districts late Sunday by denying requests to bring more middle and high school students back to campuses.

RELATED: Poway Educators: Students Are Safe, Happier In First Week Of In-Person Instruction

“It feels like the state has no interest in reopening all schools, rather just elementary schools,” said Marian Kim-Phelps, superintendent of Poway Unified School District. “We have our elementary schools open, but the question is how do we reopen all of our secondary schools and get our secondary kids back into our schools.”

The state told Poway Unified, San Dieguito Union High and Carlsbad Unified that they won’t be able to bring students back unless they can keep cohorts of students together with the same teacher for the entire school day.

“There’s not any one group of 15 kids that have the exact same course schedule with all the same teachers,” Kim-Phelps said.

All of Poway Unified’s elementary schools are currently open for half-day instruction. Kim Phelps said despite the setback, she remains optimistic that the county will soon enter the red tier and the district can move forward with reopening middle and high schools.

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

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