121,000 students return to class in county’s largest school district

Morning News

SAN DIEGO — More than 121,000 students headed back to class Monday on the first day of school in the San Diego Unified School District.

New this school year, all San Diego Unified staff are required to be vaccinated or take part in weekly COVID-19 testing. It’s part of a mandate handed down by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August that aims to help keep students safe from coronavirus at schools.

Also new this year, families are required to make a decision on testing for their students by completing a COVID Testing Acknowledgement Form.

The district announced Friday that students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors and outdoors except while eating or during a few school activities, the same policy introduced in the spring. SDUSD officials said the outdoor mask wearing and testing will help keep students at school if they test negative after coming into contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.

SDUSD President Richard Barrera said he’d heard from parents who were happy about the return to stricter mask guidelines.

“We’ve heard overwhelmingly from parents that they are relieved to hear that we’re going back to the masking all day policy,” Barrera told FOX 5. “Not only is this the safest thing to do in terms of preventing against the spread of the virus on our campuses, but it’s actually the best strategy to keep our kids in school.”

The mask mandate at schools has frustrated some local parents, leading to a series of rallies for so-called “mask choice” in the classroom.

Solana Beach schools are also requiring students to wear masks when outdoors on campus, joining SDUSD and Los Angeles Unified School District in going beyond California Department of Public Health guidelines.

San Diego Unified said it is investing nearly $3 billion in academic and social-emotional programs for students as well as upgrades to classrooms this school year, a 14% increase per-student from a year ago. District leadership touts it as the largest investment ever in students and schools.

To reduce the possibility of COVID-19 transmission at schools, the district has adopted measures that include:

  • Upgraded HVAC filtration;
  • Portable air purifiers for areas not served by a larger filter;
  • Face masks required indoors and outdoors at all times, except when students are eating or participating in physical education, athletics or visual and performing arts;
  • Handwashing stations and cleaning wipes in multiple locations;
  • A particulate sensor and CO2 monitor at each site for monitoring indoor air quality;
  • Electrostatic disinfectant sprayers for cleaning school buses;
  • Protocols in place for contact tracing, should it be necessary; and
  • A COVID dashboard viewable here.

“For over a year, we’ve been working closely with a team of scientists and doctors at UC San Diego, as well as county health officials, to design a roadmap for reopening, staying open and keeping students safe,” SDUSD Physician Dr. Howard Taras said.

Families that are still not comfortable with returning to in-person learning have the option of enrolling in a new online Virtual Academy. Every student, whether attending in person or online, will receive a laptop computer for the 2021-22 school year.

With the intention of helping to address the academic and social-emotional needs of students who are returning to campuses, the district will accelerate learning by giving students extra time and attention from teachers, counselors, school nurses and psychologists.

“We know schools are the best places for students to learn and grow, which is why we’ve put so many resources behind designing a plan for kids to get back in the classroom as safely as possible to start the new school year,” Board of Education President Richard Barrera said.

Additionally, San Diego Unified is expanding Transitional Kindergarten- 4 access to all age-eligible early learners who turn 4 by Sept. 1, as part of TK-4/Universal Transitional Kindergarten district initiative. For the 21-22 school year, TK-4/UTK will be offered at any of the district’s TK-4 elementary site locations.

This year, all San Diego Unified students also will have access to free meals on campus, regardless of their school of attendance or family income. All told, 17 meals per week — breakfast, lunch, and supper Monday through Friday, plus lunch for the two weekend days — will be available to students. Families will not have to fill out subsidized meal applications this year.

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