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‘Pandemic is not under control’: San Diego Unified will start school this fall with online learning

Fifth grader Johnny Moore, 10 from Perkins Elementary School, uses a laptop in February.
The San Diego Unified School District will delay reopening campuses this fall and will start the school year with online learning.
(File)

San Diego Unified School District leaders will delay the physical reopening of schools this fall and instead start the school year with online learning for safety reasons, officials said, citing spikes in coronavirus cases in the region.

“One fact is clear: Those countries that have managed to safely reopen schools have done so with declining infection rates and on-demand testing available. California has neither,” San Diego Unified said in a joint statement released July 13 with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control.”

San Diego Unified is sticking to its original school start date of Aug. 31 and will start by providing online-only learning for at least the first week.

The district on June 16 had approved a fall reopening plan that would let families choose from on-campus learning, online learning and a blend of the two, with several state and county safety guidelines in effect.

San Diego Unified plans to reassess the situation Aug. 10, three weeks before the start of school.

When it reassesses, the district will consider whether there is sufficient testing and additional federal funding to reopen and to what extent the coronavirus is under control.

The two districts acknowledged that parents — many of whom were counting on schools to reopen to provide child care — will be disappointed.

They also acknowledged indirectly that school closures, online learning and incomplete access to technology are believed to have caused massive learning losses for many students, particularly low-income students.

“This announcement represents a significant disappointment for the many thousands of teachers, administrators and support staff who were looking forward to welcoming students back in August,” the districts said.

“It is obviously an even greater disappointment to the many parents who are anxious for their students to resume their education. Most of all, this decision will impact our students in ways that researchers will take years to understand.”

Jeff Luna, principal of Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla, said in a July 13 email to parents that “with the recent trend of restrictions and guidelines implemented by our local government, I had a feeling that our ability to open our school year on campus might not be a viable option.”

“I understand this very difficult decision will be a relief for some and a disappointment for others,” he said. “Please know we do look forward to the date when we are able to safely reopen our campus to our learning community. ... We have all learned a great deal from distance learning in the spring, and SDUSD is committed to providing strong and more rigorous online learning this second time around.”

The La Jolla Cluster Association, a nonprofit organization that supports San Diego Unified’s La Jolla Cluster of schools — Bird Rock Elementary, La Jolla Elementary, Torrey Pines Elementary, Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High — is scheduled to meet online at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, July 16. For more information, visit lajollacluster.com or call (858) 459-4211.

La Jolla public and private schools are planning to reopen their campuses following a June 15 county health order allowing San Diego schools to resume in-person classes following the months-long closure and distance learning forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

San Diego and Los Angeles are the second-largest and largest school districts in California, respectively. San Diego has 102,000 students.

They are not the only ones that have decided to delay reopening campuses.

Sweetwater Union High School District, San Diego County’s second-largest district, with 39,000 students, had already announced that it will start the school year with some weeks of online learning. Sweetwater is in south San Diego County, where coronavirus cases are higher than many other areas.

However, private school La Jolla Country Day still plans to offer “an in-person experience that prioritizes the health and safety of our community,” communications manager Jennifer Fogarty told the La Jolla Light.

“Additionally, we will offer virtual learning for students who aren’t returning to campus due to personal or health concerns,” she said.

The school’s learning plans and health protocols can be viewed at ljcds.org/return-to-campus.

At La Jolla’s The Bishop’s School, Michael Beamer, assistant head of school for internal affairs, said the private school’s goal is “to have students on campus when we open next month.”

“We continue to assess the risk of COVID-19 transmission both locally and within our community,” he said. “Our evaluation of that risk and guidance from county health will inform the teaching and learning modality for our school at any given time.”

Representatives of The Children’s School, another private school in La Jolla, declined a request for an interview. ◆