San Diego Unified brings back some students for in-person learning

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego Unified School District welcomed back small groups of students Tuesday for in-person learning.

Phase 1 of the district’s plan to reopen is to allow elementary school students “who have been uniquely identified by their teachers as experiencing learning loss” to have limited in-person appointments. Participation is voluntary and students who participate in the sessions will continue to receive online learning.

On Tuesday, Lafayette Elementary School in the Clairemont Mesa neighborhood invited back 25 of the 27 students who were asked to return to in- person instruction — many of whom are part of a deaf and hard-of-hearing program at the school.

The district’s Phase 1 includes a mandate for less than 20% capacity for rooms and for schools, half days to avoid groups eating at schools and a six-foot distancing everywhere on school grounds — barriers or no barriers.

This summer, San Diego Unified adopted standards developed in consultation with experts from UC San Diego. As a result, conditions for the district’s reopening local schools are considerably stricter than state standards, and much stricter than various other school districts in the region that have opened for in-person learning.

According to the district, all California Department of Public Health criteria has been met to a level where limited in-person classes are possible. The next stage will be when both state and county data fit the district’s stricter metrics. That date is anyone’s guess, leading to some frustration from parents.

Parents and guardians in the “Reopen SDUSD” group said the district’s current reopening plan was “riddled with vague language that is a far cry from a comprehensive plan that families have been asking for.”

The district says several parents received notice about whether their student qualified for in-person instruction. But some parents said that’s not enough.

“It really is just a tiny portion of our student body,” parent Gina Smith said. “It only provides for one to three hours of in-person instruction by appointment only. So really it’s not enough.”

Smith said the district should be held accountable for not releasing a reopening plan for all students.

Parent Leslie Hofmeister said she worries her first grader and child in transitional kindergarten are falling behind.

“We are struggling quite a bit,” Hofmeister said. “The T-K especially. This is his first year in school so he’s having a very, very hard time sitting and listening to someone teaching on a screen and he’s not able to take in really any of it.”

But the district said it is working to reopen safely to prevent outbreaks or the spread of COVID-19.

“This is a chance for us to test out the health and safety measures that we want to have ready as we bring more students on to campus, so everything from everybody wearing masks to PPE to the regular cleaning of the classrooms,” Richard Barrera of San Diego Unified School District said. “We’re testing our ventilation of classrooms to make sure we’ve got good air flow. All of these issues, this first phase gives us a chance to test, see how it’s going, how it’s working and if it works well, then we’ll be ready to move onto our next phase.”

The parents of Reopen SDUSD said they plan to hold another protest Tuesday afternoon.

District officials said they recently surveyed 400 parents and found 59% agreed with the district’s approach to reopening.

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