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Coronavirus cases rise in La Jolla public schools, but SDUSD shutdown is ‘not going to happen,’ district says

The La Jolla Cluster Association meets Jan. 20 online.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The five public schools that make up the La Jolla Cluster in the San Diego Unified School District continue to report rising numbers of COVID-19 coronavirus cases amid a regional surge of the Omicron variant.

The latest numbers reported on the SDUSD COVID-19 Dashboard showed 57 positive cases in the La Jolla Cluster among students and staff members Jan. 9-15 (51 of them students).

Eighteen active cases were reported for the cluster Jan. 2-8.

Numbers could be off because with the recent surge, “the district is experiencing a lag in the number of positive student tests reported,” SDUSD spokesman Mike Murad said.

“The trend is toward increasing numbers of students and staff absences and infections,” district board member Michael McQuary, whose District C includes La Jolla, said at the Jan. 20 virtual meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association.

Districtwide, McQuary said, “the last numbers I had indicated that we had 2,000 staff absent.”

District case numbers for Jan. 9-15 showed 3,329 students and 383 staff members testing positive. The total of 3,712 was up from 3,214 the week before.

“In the fall, we were at 92 or 94 percent of students attending daily,” he said. That number has fallen to “low to mid-80” percent during the Omicron surge, a decrease that he called “concerning.”

SDUSD chief public information officer Andrew Sharp addressed questions on whether staff shortages would lead to school closures, saying: “The district closing wholesale is just not in the cards. It’s not going to happen. … But there’s a lot of things between all open and all closed.”

Sharp said the district is employing “an all-hands-on-deck approach,” referring to a Jan. 13 letter from SDUSD to families stating that schools are assigning non-school site staff to campuses in the event of teacher shortages and are exhausting other strategies to stay open.

The 73 employees represent less than 1 percent of the district’s workforce

The letter stated that principals may declare a COVID Impact Day, much like a heat day, if there is not enough staff to keep classrooms open. “But if that does happen, the superintendent has a whole series of steps he needs to go through,” Sharp said.

He said interim Superintendent Lamont Jackson “can’t just close a school; he has to talk to the [San Diego County] Office of Education, then they have to talk to the California Department of Education, and they have to talk to the county health department and agree that there really is a critical staffing shortage.”

“The district closing wholesale is just not in the cards. It’s not going to happen. … But there’s a lot of things between all open and all closed.”

— Andrew Sharp, SDUSD chief public information officer

La Jolla schools have not yet needed to use any of the mentioned mitigations.

“So far, things overall seem to be going pretty well in most of our schools,” Sharp said. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride for the next couple of weeks.”

McQuary thanked parents who test their families for the coronavirus and keep those who test positive home. He urged everyone to get vaccinated if eligible and to continue to wear masks.

Other cluster news

GATE assessments: District instructional support officer Maria Montgomery said there will be opportunities in the summer for third- and fourth-graders to be assessed for placement in Gifted and Talented Education, or GATE, as these are students “who missed out on universal screening in the last year and a half [or] two years” due to the pandemic.

Universal screening for GATE is usually conducted in second grade, she said, with fifth-graders who “meet retest criteria” also assessed.

Parents of eligible students will receive communication from district staff about GATE assessments, she said.

Montgomery said middle school students who missed an opportunity to be assessed in elementary school due to school closures or distance learning are not included in the current district assessment plan. “We are focused on our elementary students,” she said.

“Our middle schools have really worked together as a team to determine ways in which they can place students in courses and get them enrolled in particular programs,” Montgomery said. “We’ll ask them to maintain their processes at the middle school in order to accomplish that.”

She suggested that middle school parents reach out to their principal or counselor to discuss concerns.

Next meeting: The La Jolla Cluster Association next meets at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24, online. Learn more at lajollacluster.com.