San Diego Unified expanding Phase 1 meetings with teachers to include middle and high school students

A student boards a bus to go home after finishing in-person learning.
A student boards a bus to go home after finishing in-person learning as part of the San Diego Unified School District’s Phase 1 of campus reopening.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The district will open limited in-person appointments to middle and high school students Dec. 7.


The San Diego Unified School District will allow middle and high school students, as well as preschoolers, infants and toddlers, to go on campuses for short in-person support sessions starting Monday, Dec. 7.

San Diego Unified still has not reopened for regular in-person instruction, but it is inviting some students to campus for limited in-person appointments with teachers during what it calls Phase 1 of reopening schools from coronavirus-related closures.

So far, Phase 1 has served only elementary school students. On Nov. 12, the district reached a tentative agreement with the teachers union to expand it to more grades.

According to the agreement, middle and high school students will be eligible for Phase 1 if they:

  • Received all D or F grades during the first quarter or on their most recent progress report
  • Are English-learners who are receiving a D or F in language proficiency or English courses
  • Have been in the United States for less than two years and are not progressing in their language proficiency goals
  • Have a special-education plan, or IEP, and are not meeting their IEP goals or have “intense support needs”
  • Have been recommended for a special-education assessment that can’t be done virtually
  • Are taking a visual or performing arts or career technical education course and need to use school facilities or equipment to complete assignments

Middle and high school students and preschoolers will attend Phase 1 appointments in groups of no more than four students per teacher, according to the agreement.

Groups of infants and toddlers will be no larger than three children.

It’s unclear how many students will end up participating in the expansion. San Diego County, the state and the nation are experiencing a surge in coronavirus case rates, and the county has fallen into the purple tier of the state’s COVID-19 monitoring system — the most restrictive of the four levels.

The surge could deter teachers and students from participating in Phase 1, which has been voluntary for teachers.

Many fewer students have been participating than are eligible because many teachers are not volunteering for Phase 1, drawing concerns from school board members and parents that the program is not doing enough for students.

Phase 1 has served fewer than 3,000 students, a fraction of the 12,000 elementary students officials initially said were eligible.

Some parents also have criticized the length of Phase 1 sessions, which can be as short as 25 minutes and are offered as infrequently as once a week.

SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten said recently that the district has held about 6,000 Phase 1 appointments. Officials said they are working out ways to increase the number of students being served in Phase 1, including allowing teachers to take their children to campus if they lack child care.

Meanwhile, continued campus closures are driving significant learning loss among students, district leaders have said.

Phase 1 is part of the district’s efforts to open schools gradually and cautiously to prevent COVID-19 spread and pursue several safety measures, including biweekly coronavirus testing for all students and staff.

The district is preparing for Phase 2, which is scheduled to reopen all elementary schools Jan. 4 and all middle and high schools Jan. 25. But that could be delayed if San Diego County does not emerge from the purple tier by then.

At the Nov. 19 meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association, which includes principals and teacher and parent representatives from all five La Jolla public schools, Muirlands Middle School Principal Jeff Luna said that until Phase 1 students are welcomed to the campus, the school is rolling out math and English support starting the week after Thanksgiving for students whose parents indicated on a survey that they would be interested. The support, through personal video conferences, will be after school and during time when students are assigned independent work.

Students’ classes are scheduled three per quarter, with students taking English or math in alternating nine-week periods. The Muirlands “gap learning” program is intended for students who aren’t currently enrolled in math or English to receive support in that subject. The program is funded by the Muirlands Foundation.

In preparation for Phase 1 at La Jolla High School, Principal Chuck Podhorsky said “we are in the process of taking a look at the [eligibility] lists that have come out from the district” and matching them with “what we know about our students.” He said education specialists would meet with administrators to “look at the expanded phase” and collaborate with elementary school principals to share Phase 1 “expertise, as they’ve gone through the process.”

Podhorsky said LJHS welcomed 150 student-athletes this week “coming to do workouts on campus.” He said it has given school personnel “an opportunity, as we approach this Phase 1 expansion, [to see] what sort of protocol to put in place and how we’re checking whether the students are keeping socially distanced.”

“I’m very thankful for the students because I know when we do return to campus, they’re really respectful and I think they’re going to be ready for that experience,” he said.

Bird Rock Elementary School parent Kelsey Martin asked if San Diego County’s placement in the purple tier would prevent reopening elementary schools for Phase 2 on Jan. 4.

“We are aspirational that we can start Phase 2 after the holidays,” SDUSD board member Mike McQuary said. “But moving from red to purple was really a disappointment. We have a month and a half to make a correction.”

When a parent asked if La Jolla Cluster schools could try reopening on the basis that the 92037 ZIP code has lower coronavirus numbers than other parts of the county, McQuary replied that “I’ve given thought to classifying school risk levels for COVID using ZIP code. However, it gets complicated. Families may live in one ZIP code and their children attend school in another ZIP code; parents and adult family members may work in multiple ZIP codes, and they travel, shop and entertain in multiple ZIP codes. … Also, school employees may live in one ZIP code and work in a school (or schools) in other ZIP codes.

“ZIP codes by themselves do not provide a clear pathway for determining school risk levels for COVID.” ◆