Sweetwater Board To Vote On School Reopening Plan As North County Districts See Theirs Curtailed
Speaker 1: 00:00 Middle and high school districts in San Diego's North and South counties are eager to get plans approved for reopening, but on Sunday state officials put the brakes on the reopening requests of several North County districts. Meanwhile, the Sweetwater union high school district has approved a deal with teachers' unions for limited reopening, but all of the reopening plans now remain contingent on San Diego. Moving from the most restrictive purple COVID tier to the red. Joining me is KPBS education reporter Joe Hong, Joe. Welcome. Thanks for having me. The Sweetwater union district held his vote on the reopening plan last night. What are the main elements of that plan? Speaker 2: 00:41 Yeah, so the plan allows for 10% of students at each school to come back for in-person learning. Now, um, Sweetwater's reopening plan is a bit of a baby step compared to other districts in San Diego County because the zip codes in the Sweetwater school district have had such high case numbers throughout the pandemic. For instance, this is a much more modest proposal than what San Diego unified has put out. The district is hoping to bring back all of its students on April 12th. Now, Sweetwater is focusing on prioritizing high needs students, which is essentially where other districts were at the beginning of 2021. Uh, I spoke with Sweetwater teacher's union president Julie Walker yesterday. Here's what you said about who qualifies to come back to the Speaker 3: 01:22 Children who are special ed children, who are from low income homes and students who are language learners. Those are our big threes and they will get first availability for any open slots that are there. We will offer it to all of them. Speaker 1: 01:38 Now, Joe, you mentioned those zip codes, this deal calls for not just the County to qualify for red tier status, but for the zip codes in the Sweetwater district to also have COVID positivity rates that fall from purple to red, is that likely to happen anytime soon? Speaker 2: 01:56 I think so. You know, these zip codes, we're seeing case rates that were double or triple the County averages just a few months ago. And now with vaccinations underway, the case rates in these neighborhoods are, are still higher than the County average, but definitely not as much. And with the County progressing towards the red tier. Now I think these South Bay zip codes should be close behind. Speaker 1: 02:15 What about elementary schools in the South Bay? Is there a plan to reopen those grades? Speaker 2: 02:19 Yeah, so Chula Vista elementary school district is the big one. Um, and it announced last week that it's currently preparing to start some form of in-person instruction. You know, they're, they haven't released many details yet, but we know that it won't happen before April 5th. Speaker 1: 02:37 Okay. So moving to the North County, a group of North County, middle and high school districts, they got a thumbs down from state officials on their reopening plans. What were they proposing? Speaker 2: 02:48 Right. So San Dieguito union high power unified and Carlsbad unified were three districts that we're hoping to use a sort of state exemption process to reopen their middle and high schools while the County is still in the purple tier. So in the case of Poway unified, you know, without getting too much into the weeds, the district made the argument to the state that the district qualified to reopen middle and high schools for part-time in-person instruction because the district had already been taking steps towards reopening before the state changed its guidelines back in January and Poway was planning on starting, uh, opening middle and high schools on March 16th, which is next week, but San Dieguito union high school districts there, they were in more of a sort of dire situation because they got the denial letter on Sunday evening. And they were actually planning on reopening middle and high schools, uh, yesterday on Monday. So they really had to scramble. And, um, there were a lot of upset folks up there. Speaker 1: 03:49 The North County reopening plans apparently got the okay from San Diego County, Dr. Wilma Wooten. So was it a surprise when those plans were denied? Speaker 2: 04:00 Yeah, I think it was, you know, I, I spoke with Poway, uh, superintendent Marianne can felt yesterday and she said, all of the districts submitted very detailed plans for reopening, but they all got the same generic denial letter. And she said she was disappointed because each of the districts submitted plans that were thoughtful and sort of tailored to their own district. But the state didn't seem to put the same amount of thought into its response. And here's what Kim Phelps said yesterday. Speaker 4: 04:26 It feels like that the state has no interest in reopening all schools, rather just elementary schools. We have our elementary schools open, but how do we, the question is how do we reopen all of our secondary schools and get our secondary kids back into our schools? Speaker 1: 04:42 Why were these North County districts so certain that they were going to get the green light on this special state exemption? Speaker 2: 04:49 Yeah, I think, uh, really the surprise came from the fact that the districts really did things by the book. You know, they got multiple County officials to sort of support their proposals, to reopen, uh, folks like you mentioned, uh, Dr. Wooten. And then they had all the safety guidelines in place. You know, all the social distancing measures, the smaller class sizes, the ventilation in the classrooms. And so now to these administrators, it just seems like the state is contradicting itself by denying their, their proposal to reopen Speaker 1: 05:21 Were the state's reasons for keeping those higher grades closed Speaker 2: 05:24 The state isn't allowing middle and high schools three open unless students who go on campus spend the entire day with the same group of 15 students and the same teacher and anyone who's been to a traditional high school knows that there's never any two students who have all the same classes together. Right. So from a scheduling perspective, it becomes impossible to meet that state criteria for reopening. Speaker 1: 05:47 So all the districts are waiting for San Diego to enter the red tier. And that looks like it could take a couple more weeks, right? Yeah, that's right. Um, but district Speaker 2: 05:58 Administrators are hopeful that this is truly the light at the end of the tunnel. You know, um, like I mentioned, San Diego unified, which is the state's second largest district came out with a pretty firm date of April 12th. And I think we should see that as a positive sign for all the students and parents who've been waiting so long to get back to school. Speaker 5: 06:15 I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter, Joe Hong and Joe. Thanks. Thanks for having me.