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Back to school in baby steps: La Jolla private schools prepare for return to campus

A third-grade classroom at Stella Maris Academy illustrates the La Jolla school's plans for reopening in-person classes.
A third-grade classroom at Stella Maris Academy illustrates the La Jolla private school’s preparations for reopening in-person classes starting Thursday, Sept. 3.
(Courtesy)

La Jolla private schools are preparing to welcome students back to in-person learning in light of San Diego County’s expectation that all schools will be allowed to reopen Sept. 1 if the county keeps its coronavirus case rate below 100 per 100,000 people.

Many area private schools were already in the process of scheduling their returns to campus through a waiver application process for kindergarten through sixth grade that the county suspended Aug. 24 in anticipation of all schools being allowed to reopen.

Eight private schools in La Jolla applied for the waiver: Gillispie, La Jolla Country Day, San Diego French American, Stella Maris Academy, All Hallows Academy, and The Children’s, The Bishop’s and The Evans schools. All but All Hallows had been approved as of Aug. 26.

The five La Jolla public schools did not apply for waivers to reopen. As part of the San Diego Unified School District, they do not have the autonomy to apply individually. SDUSD has said it will begin the school year online Monday, Aug. 31, with strict reopening guidelines that could keep classrooms closed for months.

La Jolla Country Day School, which serves preschool through grade 12 and began its school year online Aug. 19, is “implementing a phased reopening plan to welcome students in each division back on campus,” according to Head of School Gary Krahn. “Our goal is to safely and gradually increase the density of students on campus throughout September and early October. The schedule has been carefully crafted to allow for time to refine and advance safety policies and protocols accordingly. It also ensures that students have time to adjust to new protocols and expectations.”

LJCDS plans to bring its kindergarten and first-grade students on campus Monday, Sept. 14 — preschoolers already are allowed there — for half-day instruction. Another grade will be added every few days, ending with 12th-graders allowed in person on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

At Stella Maris Academy, which began the school year Aug. 24 with distance learning, Principal Francie Moss said transitional kindergartners will return to campus Thursday, Sept. 3. The school will add first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students Sept. 8-9, then ask them to stay home Sept. 10-11 as second-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders return.

Moss said dividing the students’ schedules will make it “easier to learn the routines; it allows us to work out any hiccups in our routine. By [Sept.] 14, everybody will be back on campus.”

Moss said those who do not wish to return in person have the option to continue learning from home.

“We’re excited,” Moss said. “We feel we’ve done everything possible to make the environment as safe as possible for the students.”

The Bishop’s School, which began with online learning Aug. 18, will start bringing students on campus in two-day increments, one grade at a time, according to a schedule listed on its website. Its sixth-graders will be first Sept. 2-3.

“Our goal is to have a safe and sustainable opening,” said Assistant Head of School Michael Beamer. “We are taking a methodical approach to reopening.”

The two-day-at-a-time system is designed to make sure “everybody understands the policies and procedures without worrying about overcrowding,” Beamer said.

“We want to have students back on campus … [and] as we live through this phase-in process, there will be opportunities to assess what’s working,” Beamer said. “We need to make sure we can manage our population on campus in small groups before we can think about having larger groups.”

Beamer said that about 80 percent of Bishop’s families had indicated they would opt for in-person instruction.

The Children’s School is planning to welcome students up to sixth grade on campus for its first day of school Aug. 31, using the approved waiver. Assuming schools are allowed to reopen for all grade levels as expected, TCS will bring its seventh- and eighth-graders back Wednesday, Sept. 2, according to a letter on its website from Head of School John Fowler.

“We are hopeful that the beginning of the school year will mark a return to some degree of normalcy for all of our families, even as we acknowledge that we continue to operate under the constraints imposed by the virus,” Fowler wrote. “Our children’s long-term stability depends on the ability of the adults who love them to manage this crisis with both prudence and optimism.”

Gillispie School did not respond to the La Jolla Light’s requests for comment, but according to its website, it will begin welcoming students in person a week after its Sept. 1 start date, with kindergarten and first grade returning Tuesday, Sept. 8.

San Diego French American School did not return requests for comment, but Head of School Mark Rosenblum told the Light in an earlier interview after the school’s waiver was approved that the academic year would begin Aug. 28 with seventh- and eighth-graders staying online while younger students would be brought back to campus.

The school has “completely renovated our campus to accommodate for comfortable physical distancing for all enrolled students,” Rosenblum said. “We are cautiously thrilled” to bring students back.

The Evans School and All Hallows Academy did not respond to requests for comment, and their websites did not contain specifics on when their campuses would reopen.

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Kristen Taketa contributed to this report.