San Diego Unified School District starts offering learning labs for at-risk students

San Diego Unified School District headquarters
The San Diego Unified School District is allowing certain groups of students to go to school campuses for supervised “learning labs” while schools remain closed to regular in-person instruction.

The labs are the district’s effort to increase in-person support for students while schools are closed to regular instruction.


The San Diego Unified School District is allowing certain groups of students to go to school campuses for supervised work space while schools remain closed to regular in-person instruction.

The district struck an agreement with its teachers union last week to offer “learning labs” to students who lack reliable internet access at home, are receiving below-standard grades, have disabilities and are not meeting special-education goals, struggle to learn English or need social or emotional support, such as homeless students, foster youths and chronically absent students.

In addition to the learning labs, the district has been providing in-person support by appointment to limited numbers of students since October in its Phase 1 of reopening. On Feb. 4, the district and teachers union agreed to expand eligibility for Phase 1 to include all the aforementioned student groups.

With the changes, about 22,000 San Diego Unified students now qualify for Phase 1 services and learning labs, said district board President Richard Barrera. As of Jan. 29, the district had enrolled a total of about 97,000 students, according to the San Diego County Office of Education.

The learning labs will be rolled out this month, and parents of eligible students were to start receiving emails this week to confirm eligibility and participation, the district said.

Learning labs are the latest effort by the district and teachers union to increase in-person opportunities for students.

As of Jan. 29, about 2,700 students were participating in Phase 1, or about 3 percent of the student body. For multiple weeks before, only about 1,000 students were participating.

The low participation disappointed board members as well as some parents, who said it’s not fair for only certain students to get in-person help when others in need couldn’t because it wasn’t available at their schools.

There also is increased pressure from the state, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and children’s health experts for schools to reopen to mitigate the social, emotional and health harm that school closures are causing for children.

Schools in San Diego County that have not yet reopened are barred by the state from doing so until the county’s coronavirus case rate dips below 25 per 100,000 residents for elementary schools and seven per 100,000 residents for middle and high schools.

Each learning lab will have up to 14 students in a classroom for elementary grades and up to 10 in a classroom for middle and high school grades. The labs will last at least from the start of the school day until lunchtime, according to the union agreement, but Barrera said the goal is to offer learning labs for the entire school day, four or five days a week.

Barrera said the longer daily schedule for learning labs could increase Phase 1 participation because it may be easier for teachers and parents to schedule more Phase 1 appointments.

He also thinks paying substitutes and paraeducators to come in will help boost Phase One 1 availability.

Once teachers are able to get vaccinated for COVID-19, Barrera said, he anticipates the district will be able to require teachers to come in to school, rather than leaving it voluntary — even if the county’s virus case rate is still too high to advance past Phase 1. ◆