Local Districts Working to Meet State Guidelines For Reopening Schools
Summer is finally here after months of distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, but San Diego area school districts are already preparing for the fall.
Earlier this week, California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond released a 50-page handbook on safely reopening schools, but he emphasized that local districts would decide when and how students are allowed back on campuses.
“School reopening is a matter that is decided locally,” Thurmond said during a virtual press conference on Monday. “With 1,000 school districts in our state, all of our schools make their own decision about when they might reopen according to their own calendar.”
Under the state guidance, students will have their temperatures checked regularly and will be separated by six feet in the classroom. Also, students and teachers will be required to wear face coverings.
In Chula Vista’s elementary schools, teachers will wear face shields instead of masks.
“Especially at the elementary school age, kids need to see the teacher,” said Francisco Escobedo, superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District.
The district was supposed to start its school year on July 20, but it pushed back its start day to August 31 to meet health guidelines for safe reopening.
Escobedo said the district needs to ensure sanitary requirements are met like “making sure hand sanitizer is filled up every day and making sure we have enough stations throughout the schools so it’s readily available.”
The state’s guidance offers several possible scenarios for districts. Schools could divide their student bodies in half and have them come to campus on alternating weeks. Some schools might divide their school days in half to reduce class sizes.
The district surveyed parents and about 80% wanted their students to return to campuses to some degree, but distance learning will be an option for those who might be living with at-risk family members, Escobedo said.
“Everyone has a different rationale and specific reasons why they want to stay or go to school,” he said. “We definitely want to meet the needs of our individual families.”
However, for the San Diego Unified School District, returning students to school is the top priority.
“We desperately want to bring our students back to our campuses in the fall,” said Richard Barrera, the vice president of San Diego Unified’s school board. “We don’t want to do staggered schedules, we don’t want to do half days. Our students need to be in school all day, our parents need our students to be in school all day.”
But to safely accommodate all students on campuses, Barrera said districts will need more federal and state funding than has already been promised. Otherwise, it’ll be back to distance learning.
“The question is will we have enough money to keep our students on campus for the whole year,” he said.