San Diego Unified Cautiously Looks To January For Expanding In-Person Learning
Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego unified students could be headed back to school. This January district officials have announced a phase two plan to reopen in-person learning for elementary school students. Part-time on January 4th, middle and high school. Students could resume part-time classes later in January, but the reopening depends on San Diego, at least remaining in tier two of the state's COVID classifications and not falling back into tier one. Joining me to explain the details of this plan is KPBS education reporter Joe Hong, and welcome Joe. Thanks for having me. The phase two plan brings kids back to school, but it's very different from the start of a normal school semester elementary school. Kids could start in-person classes on January 4th, but how would they be struck? Speaker 2: 00:48 Sure. Yeah, so you're totally right. This would be a very different structure. Um, elementary students there, uh, the student body would be divided into two and an am cohort and a PM cohort. And so the am cohort would obviously come in the morning. They would leave, uh, around noon. The PM cord comes in and that's how they would work four days a week on Fridays, Speaker 1: 01:11 They have online classes at home. Yes, Speaker 2: 01:13 That's right. A Fridays will be sort of a supplemental online learning day. Speaker 1: 01:17 Then if all goes well, middle and high school students would resume in-person classes on January 25th. And how would that work? Speaker 2: 01:26 It it'll be similar to the way elementary schools will reopen and phase two. Um, high school students will be split into two cohorts, but instead of an am PM cohort, you'll have a Monday, Tuesday cohort and a Wednesday Thursday cohort. And again, Fridays will be online. Speaker 1: 01:42 Now, will parents be able to keep kids at home and continue online learning if they want to? Speaker 2: 01:48 Yes, absolutely. So the district has been very clear about those. They understand that some families have sort of medically fragile folks at home and they want to be sensitive to those needs or, you know, some parents just aren't comfortable with sending their students back onto campuses. So they want to offer that option for families. Speaker 1: 02:05 Diego unified is already underway with a phase one plan, and that offers short in-person learning sessions to elementary school. Students who are suffering from learning loss, those sessions are by appointment only tell us how the phase one is going. Speaker 2: 02:23 Yeah, so I think some teachers and parents are very happy to have students back in classes and small groups, social distancing, a plexiglass, the whole gamut, no COVID outbreaks or cases reported so far, which is great. But some parents have been disappointed by the sort of slim offerings. Some parents who have kids with special needs, haven't been able to get the services they need. Although, you know, about 4,000 appointments have been made across the district since the district launched phase in on October 13th, some parents like Ashley Lewis, who I spoke to last week said she wasn't able to get the occupational therapy for her son with autism. And, uh, her school, ocean beach elementary wasn't offering any in-person appointments because they weren't able to get enough teachers to volunteer for this limited in-person instruction. And, uh, here's a bit of a conversation I had with her, Speaker 3: 03:28 You know, it's, it's optional for the teachers. Like he can't force them to come back. So if they don't want to come back and teach in person, he can't make them. Speaker 1: 03:35 Does the district still plan on expanding phase one to include other students? Speaker 2: 03:40 Yes. So the district plans to expand phase one to more elementary schools, uh, perhaps like ocean beach elementary, where actually Lewis wasn't yet able to get the services. The district might be able to get more teachers to volunteer, uh, to provide in-person instruction there, but also the district is planning on expanding appointment based in person instruction to middle and high schools. So currently the phase one is operating only, um, in the elementary schools. And I also want to mention that the expansion of phase one will move forward. Even if the County does enter the more restrictive purple tier Speaker 1: 04:23 Now from remarks by school officials yesterday, it seems that the limited ability of schools to test students and teachers for COVID is part of the reason for this slow reopening. How is that being addressed? Speaker 2: 04:36 Right? Yeah. This is a very important point for, uh, San Diego unified leadership, the school board and the superintendent they're working to secure a regular testing plan. Um, an asymptomatic testing plan where students and staff who are regularly on campus will be required to be tested every two weeks. Now, a board vice president, Richard bruh, you know, does admit that they do need a substantial amount of federal stimulus funding to be able to do that. But for a big school district like San Diego unified with, you know, over a hundred thousand students, they want to make sure that, you know, even if they do have individual cases, they want to make sure that these students aren't spreading the virus in the community. Speaker 1: 05:21 San Diego County health officials have announced a, a nearly 7% increase in positive coronavirus tests for children under the age of nine. Now Vista school district has had to change its rules about closing schools because of recent Corona virus outbreaks. Tell us about that. Speaker 2: 05:39 Yeah. So this is, uh, something that's just happened in the past, you know, 24 hours. Um, in the past week of full reopening Vista unified has had, uh, six positive cases of coronavirus amongst students and at mission Vista high school, the past week, they've had two cases. So the school board held an emergency board meeting on Tuesday night and they've come up with the criteria for closing schools. So one of them is that if there are two positive cases at a single school, that school will remain closed for 14 days. And so mission Vista high school starting tomorrow, Thursday will be closed and those students will return to distance learning. Speaker 4: 06:24 Okay. Then I have been speaking with KPBS education reporter, Joe Hong and Joe. Thank you. Thanks for having me.