South Bay school district considers phased reopening plan

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Some of the youngest students in the Chula Vista Elementary School District potentially could return to the classroom by the end of the month.

Superintendent Dr. Francisco Escobedo facilitated a town hall on Monday to discuss the possible limited reopening and answer questions from parents. One option would be to bring back classes at half capacity with students returning to campus two to four days per week.

“We all want our students back,” said Armando Farias, who sits on the district’s board of education. “Yet, we are not willing to do so until it is safe.”

The district’s proposed return to in-person learning would be done in phases. According to the proposal, students in preschool through second grade — along with special education students — would return to campus as early as Oct. 26.

However, district leaders made it clear that they will only move forward with reopening if local data shows a decline in COVID-19 cases in Chula Vista. 

“It will probably be closer to the end of the year,” Escobedo said. “Nonetheless, we have to prepare now in the eventuality when we open up.”

Parents and administrators have faced an evolving and at-times conflicting set of recommendations from experts and public officials about when and how to reopen campuses.

The Centers for Disease Control has said some schools can bring kids back on campus safely, citing lower reported case and death rates among children. However, the agency only recommends opening in areas where there is not significant community spread of the virus, and where schools can be certain that precautions, including social distancing, face coverings and limiting activities, will be followed.

In California, counties must be in the state’s “red tier” for two weeks in order for campuses to be allowed to reopen. But the decision ultimately falls to individual districts to determine if and when to open.

The district prepared for the reopening by ordering thousands of plastic dividers and face masks, which must be worn by teachers and students, unless a medical condition prevents them from wearing one. Hand-washing, social distancing and health screening would also be a requirement and COVID-19 testing also would be available for students and staff, the district said.

If the district moves forward with reopening in late October and the case rate continues to decline, older students likely would be able return to campus a few weeks later, Escobedo said.

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