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San Diego Unified School District plans for 6 hours of distance learning daily

A student uses a laptop to work on a math assignment in February.
(File)

The district’s new distance learning ground rules set higher standards than distance learning in the spring.

The San Diego Unified School District is aiming to make distance learning this fall “as close as possible” to what school was like before COVID-19, according to new ground rules the district announced the night of July 30.

That means students will have a six-hour school day that includes daily videoconferencing with a teacher.

Every school day, students will have up to three hours of live online instruction, at least two hours of independent work and at least one hour of working in small groups or going to virtual office hours.

All elementary school students will get instruction in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, physical education and the arts.

Teachers will be required to work full workdays, hold office hours and arrange small-group instruction.

Those were some of the details in a tentative agreement announced between San Diego Unified and its teachers union. The district said it worked with parents, school administrators, students and teachers to design the new distance learning rules.

Nona Richard, principal of Torrey Pines Elementary School — one of the five schools in SDUSD’s La Jolla Cluster — said: “The La Jolla Cluster principals are thrilled to be moving forward in partnership with our teachers. It’s exciting to have these learning plan guidelines as the shared foundation for the robust learning experience our students will receive this fall.”

The agreement represents a significant change from distance learning in the spring, which had more-lax requirements and was considered more of a last-minute emergency measure. Back then, the district did not require teachers to work more than four hours a day or use Zoom and did not set daily minimums of distance learning for students.

With schools not permitted to offer in-person instruction because of the continuing coronavirus outbreak, many parents are looking for alternatives as their schools prepare to start the academic year online.

San Diego Unified will start school Monday, Aug. 31, with at least one week of distance learning. It will announce more details Monday, Aug. 10, on when the district may consider it safe to reopen campuses.

“We continue working to bring all students back to campus as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so. In the meantime, we must ensure our students continue to learn and make academic progress,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said in a statement.

In June, the SDUSD board approved a fall reopening plan that would have let families choose from among on-campus learning, online learning and a blend of the two.

But the district announced July 13 that it would start school this fall with online-only instruction in response to a surge in coronavirus cases in the region.

The district cannot bring students back in person until San Diego County lowers its coronavirus case rate to 100 per 100,000 people or less for at least two consecutive weeks. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced July 17 that public and private schools in counties on the state’s COVID-19 watch list cannot reopen until their counties stay off the list for at least two weeks.

Currently, San Diego County’s case rate is 130.1 per 100,000 people. That’s an improvement from 147.2, which was the rate when the school closure mandate was announced.

A conservative group that has fought California’s stay-at-home orders is suing Gov.

San Diego Unified’s rules for distance learning this fall are stricter than they were in the spring partly because the state has several new distance learning requirements for this school year that are outlined in the state budget.

Among them are that schools must take attendance daily, students must have daily live interaction with an educator and schools must write a plan on how to reach students who don’t show up for distance learning for at least 60 percent of the school week. Schools also must ensure that every student has internet access and a device to complete school work.

Kristen Taketa writes for The San Diego Union-Tribune. La Jolla Light staff writer Elisabeth Frausto contributed to this report.