San Diego Unified announces details, but not a date, for Phase 2 of school reopening — hybrid learning
A date for the beginning of Phase 2 is expected to be announced Tuesday, Oct. 27, after the next county COVID-19 update.
The San Diego Unified School District‘s elementary students will return to in-person learning for half days, while middle and high school students will return for two days a week during the next phase of the district’s campus reopening from COVID-19-related closures — but there is still no start date, the district announced Oct. 22.
The district plans to announce a date for the start of what it calls its Phase 2 opening following the county’s update of COVID-19 coronavirus statistics on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
The district also revealed there will be a Phase 3 and Phase 4 to schools opening, which will gradually increase how often students go to campus for in-person learning.
The district’s reopening plans announced Oct. 22 are subject to collective bargaining negotiations with unions, the district said.
Dr. Howard Taras, the San Diego Unified School District’s in-house physician, answers questions about Phase 2 of the district’s campus reopening plans.
For Phase 2, students in prekindergarten through fifth grade will attend school in person four days a week for a half day, either in the morning or the afternoon.
Students in grades 6-12 will attend school in person two days a week for four hours a day. Middle and high school students also will spend two hours a day doing “flex time,” which can involve independent learning, sports, extracurricular activities, internships, college courses, special-education services, tutoring and student clubs.
On Fridays, students in all grades will do live online learning and independent work at home.
In Phase 2, all teachers and staff will return to work on campus, according to the plan.
San Diego Unified is now in Phase 1 of reopening, in which some students with high needs have been invited back to campus for limited in-person sessions. Phase 1 currently only serves students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade.
Local elementary schools welcomed a small number of students back to campus Oct. 13, exactly seven months after they closed their doors to in-person instruction.
Phase 1 is voluntary for teachers, so sessions vary by teacher. Schools are not required to offer Phase 1 sessions, and some are not.
San Diego Unified says it plans to expand Phase 1 to include students in grades 6-12 and infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
Athletic coaches also will return to campuses during Phase 1, and sports practices will begin Dec. 12, according to the district’s plan.
Phase 3 will allow students in all grades to attend in person for four days a week, without morning and afternoon cohorts. Friday will remain a distance-learning day.
The final Phase 4 will increase in-person learning to five days a week.
Throughout Phases 3 and 4, middle and high school students will continue having four hours daily of in-person learning and two hours daily of flex time.
Schools will require daily health screenings for everyone who enters a campus. District officials have said masks will be required for all students and staff members, unless they have medical exceptions.
Schools will ask parents to screen their children daily before school, either by a mobile app or paper, and schools will confirm the screenings when students arrive at school, according to the district’s plan.
The district says it is working on a more comprehensive testing and tracing strategy. Last week the district asked the state for 10,000 daily coronavirus tests so it can test all students and staff members every other week.
Meanwhile, students who go to school with potential COVID-19 symptoms will be isolated in a waiting area, then sent home.
The district will still offer bus transportation to “the maximum number” of students who qualify, including special-education students and students in magnet school programs. Students will have to follow six-foot distancing rules when getting on and off a bus.
Schools will continue distributing meals grab-and-go-style through Phase 2.
Schools will start serving meals on campus in Phase 3 for elementary students only, and students will either eat outdoors or in classrooms. Secondary students will receive grab-and-go meals through all the phases.
A broad plan
The district’s announcement comes as several parents have been demanding that schools reopen now and warning of the emotional and academic toll of continued school closures on children. A parent group called Reopen SDUSD has been holding reopening protests at the district’s headquarters.
Meanwhile, district leaders have been adamant about reopening slowly to avoid facilitating coronavirus outbreaks in their schools or in the community and to prevent students and staff from contracting the disease at school.
“We know behind every student, behind every educator eager to return to the classroom, there is a family worried about the safety of their loved ones. That is why our reopening plans are centered on the health, safety and well-being of our students, staff and families,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said in a statement.
Gina Smith, a parent who helped found Reopen SDUSD, said she sees the district’s new announcement as an attempt to appease the public less than two weeks before the school board elections.
Two incumbents, Richard Barrera and Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, are running to keep their seats.
District officials said they are and always have been basing their reopening plan and timeline on science. The district frequently points out that another group of parents supports the district’s slow pace.
“What we’ve said from the start is we’re not gonna focus on any of the outside factors; we’re gonna focus on the science,” said district spokesman Andrew Sharp.
Smith said she is skeptical of the district’s announced reopening plans, partly because many parents have already been dissatisfied with Phase 1.
The district originally said Phase 1 would bring back up to 12,000 students for in-person services. But Smith said this phase has been smaller than parents expected because it’s voluntary for teachers.
Smith said some parents in her group are at schools where no teachers opted to participate in Phase 1. Other parents said their children are getting Phase 1 sessions once a week that last less than an hour.
Smith also said she doubts whether the reopening plans will happen as the district announced them, considering that they haven’t been negotiated with unions yet.
“I don’t know how [Marten] can make this announcement before the union has been negotiated,” Smith said.
Kisha Borden, president of the San Diego Unified teachers union, said the union learned of the district’s reopening plan details Oct. 15.
“They’re pretty broad plans, and we really haven’t had a chance to go over them,” Borden said. “I don’t want folks to see it as a fully fleshed out plan because it’s a rough draft; it’s preliminary.”
Borden added that the union will need to work with the district to decide what county COVID-19 case metrics and other safety thresholds will determine when to move from one phase to the next.
She said the teachers union ideally wants baseline coronavirus testing for all students and staff before they return to campus.
“Definitely testing and tracing is going to be a major factor in any phase,” Borden said. ◆
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