San Diego Unified School District sets April 12 target date for reopening campuses for all

Torrey Pines Elementary student Olivia Wood and paraeducator RoseMarie Lynn in October during limited in-person learning.
Torrey Pines Elementary School fourth-grader Olivia Wood and paraeducator RoseMarie Lynn are pictured in October during limited in-person learning.

The date is contingent on school staff getting access to both COVID-19 vaccine doses and on the county getting out of the purple tier.


Nearly a year after the San Diego Unified School District closed its campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s second-largest district plans to reopen schools for all grade levels the week of April 12 — though that target date is contingent on San Diego County getting out of the most-restrictive purple tier of the state’s coronavirus risk framework and on school staff getting access to both COVID vaccine doses, the district announced Feb. 23.

The district set the target date after being told by San Diego County officials that the county will open COVID vaccinations to school staff and other essential workers starting Monday, March 1, San Diego Unified board President Richard Barrera said. The district struck an agreement for the April 12 target with its teachers union, the San Diego Education Association, on Feb. 22, Barrera added.

Currently, the district is offering on-campus instruction only for at-risk students for appointment-based learning or supervised learning labs.

“Getting our kids back in the classroom is one of our highest priorities, and I want to commend San Diego Unified and the San Diego Education Association for reaching this agreement,” county Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said in a statement. “At the county, we will do everything possible to get our school staff vaccinated so our classrooms can be open to in-person learning.”

The district plans to call staff back to school the week of April 5, right after spring break, Barrera said.

Then all students who wish to attend school in person would get the chance the following week.

The district will reopen in hybrid learning, meaning students can attend in person part of the week or part of the school day and will continue distance learning the rest of the time. Many districts in the county are using hybrid learning to reduce the number of students on campus at a time to allow for social distancing.

Families who wish to keep their students at home would be able to continue distance learning.

In addition to vaccines, the district’s plan is contingent on San Diego County getting and staying out of the purple tier, which means the county coronavirus case rate must fall and remain below seven per 100,000 residents.

“We’re confident that we can meet both those goals because the declining case rate gives us confidence that we will be out of the purple tier well before mid-April,” Barrera said. “So, provided that the rollout of the vaccine goes well, we think we’ll be able to meet that timeline.”

As of the weekly report Feb. 23, the county case rate is 15 per 100,000. The rate has been on the decline for several weeks.

Schools in San Diego Unified’s five-campus La Jolla Cluster sent email blasts to their communities shortly after the district’s announcement.

An email from the La Jolla High School PTSA included Principal Chuck Podhorsky’s statement that the school “is prepared and ready to reopen once SDUSD gives the green light. We have the necessary PPE (masks, sanitizer, etc.) and all the required safety protocols. Small cohorts of students have already successfully returned to LJHS and we are eager to welcome the entire student body back to campus.”

Bird Rock Elementary School Principal Andi Frost wrote in her school’s email that “I look forward to sharing more information with you as it becomes available and gathering community input as we gain information and move closer to our reopening date.”

Emails from La Jolla Elementary School Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink and Torrey Pines Elementary Principal Nona Richard said “the district will send out a survey soon in which families can indicate their preference” for going back to campus or continuing distance learning at home.

The message from Muirlands Middle School Principal Jeff Luna stated: “Muirlands will continue to take the necessary steps to prepare our campus, staff and community to transition ... safely. … I will continue to share accurate information with our Muirlands family as it becomes available.”

San Diego Unified school staff will not be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine to go back to work, Barrera said.

The district will provide accommodations, such as working from home, for staff with underlying health conditions or immediate family members with health conditions.

Staff members who do not have underlying conditions or immediate family with conditions will be required to work in person, even if they do not want to get the vaccine, Barrera said.

Schools’ return to in-person learning will begin the district’s work of helping students recover from more than a year of the pandemic and school closures, Barrera said.

“We have to help students overcome the challenges that they’ve faced over the last year, and that’s everything from academic loss to social and emotional trauma,” Barrera said.

San Diego Unified intends to offer an expanded summer school program to help with learning loss.

The district does not plan to extend the school year, because some parents will not want it, Barrera said.

Other potential solutions include offering increased after-school academic help to students, along with mental health supports, Barrera said.

“It’s been ... the most challenging year that students have ever faced, and that’s why we’re so focused on the recovery and getting them back on track,” he said.

The district’s announcement drew praise from San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria.

“I want to thank San Diego Unified for providing a clear timeline on getting kids back in the classroom and, more importantly, providing parents with some certainty,” Gloria said in a statement. “This news provides some relief to parents who have had to juggle multiple roles during the pandemic.”

“While a hybrid schedule is still difficult for many working families, this represents a step in the right direction,” Gloria added. “I will keep working with and urging the school district officials, teachers and stakeholders to continue making progress toward getting our kids back in the classroom full time.” ◆