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SAN DIEGO – The Poway Unified School District will remain fully virtual at least through the end of 2020, a decision district leaders said Wednesday is intended to avoid further uncertainty for students and staff during the pandemic.

The decision comes following new guidance provided to San Diego County school superintendents this week, requiring the county come off the state’s monitoring list for two 14-day cycles before in-person instruction can resume, Poway Unified Marian Kim-Phelps said. Given the desire for “stability” for students, Kim-Phelps said the district — scheduled to begin its year virtually Sept. 2 — will remain fully virtual through its December break ending on Jan. 1.

FOX 5 was able to speak with one parent with students both in middle school and high school in Poway Unified.

“I was surprised, but I think it’s the right decision for sure. I think any place that there are people gathering, there seems to be some spread of this virus and there are a lot of people to think about: families, kids, teachers, staff and I’m really pleased and relieved that the school district has come to this decision,” said Casey Dominguez.

That includes students who selected the in-person learning option in a recent family commitment form distributed by the district, she said.

“While this information is likely to disappoint the majority of our staff and families who indicated a desire to return to on-campus learning as soon as possible, everyone should know that — due to our extensive planning thus far — PUSD will be ready for a prompt and safe return to in-person instruction if permitted to do so come January,” Kim-Phelps said in a letter on the district’s website.

Last month, the district published a 28-page reopening guidebook in which Kim-Phelps calls 2020 “the most challenging year I have ever experienced as an educator.” In the guidebook, the district pushed back its original reopening date from mid-August and broadly outlines protocols for staff and students upon returning to campus.

All 42 county school districts closed their doors in mid-March to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

One of Poway Unified’s schools — Abraxas High School, a year-round continuation school — briefly reopened in July, before shifting back to virtual learning after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a series reopening guidelines for state school districts.

As of the 2018-19 school year, Poway Unified has more than 36,000 students and 4,000 regular employees. It is the third-largest school district in San Diego County after San Diego Unified and the Sweetwater Union High School District.