The proposed return to in-person schooling
A look into the school board's recent proposal to return to in-person education.
October 23, 2020
THURSDAY OCTOBER 15– The SDUHSD board proposed a resolution during a five-hour meeting to begin a transitional return to in-person schooling.
**UPDATE #1: Teachers will now return to campus once students return; they will not be required to return on Oct. 29. Information courtesy of Dr. Celeste Barnette.
**UPDATE #2: Return to in-person schooling has been pushed back from its early November date to the week of January 4, 2021. Information courtesy of Dr. Robert Haley.
Beginning around Nov. 16, this plan would allow all high-school students the option to either remain in the current distance-learning model or return to on-campus education for one day a week, graduating to two days a week by Dec. 7. These dates would finally culminate in an optional return to in-person education for all students beginning in the third quarter.
As of the publication of this article, no modified bell schedule has been verified.
While agreed upon by the school board, these return dates are not yet ratified and are subject to change. “They are just goals at the moment since the return of kids on campus has been much slower than we anticipated,” said SDUHSD board member Melisse Mossy, in reference to the select groups of students who have been returning to school on-campus the past few months.
However, “teachers and students who need to stay home will be allowed to do so, and that is a personal choice that must be honored,” states Superintendent Robert Haley in correspondence with Mossy. While students can attend school via distance learning or in-person, teachers will not have the choice to instruct from home; if they choose to not return to on-campus school, they will have to take a leave of absence.
The SDUHSD board worked with a reopening committee in which to discuss these dates to return to school. The committee was created “to both inform, build unity, and listen to learn from diverse perspectives,” said Mossy. The committee is composed of approximately 50 individuals, “including teachers, principals, doctors, lawyers, students, and parents… all representing diverse backgrounds and opinions,” said Mossy.
However, this committee provided just their opinions and insight on the matter, for their job was “not to create policy,” said Mossy. The ultimate decision on when students return to in-person education will be the board’s.
While the school board proposed these return dates on the Oct. 15 board meeting, they held an emergency board meeting on Oct. 14 in order to propel the discussion and allow 24-hours for public comment to be made be in accordance with the Brown Act, which prevents any motion from being put to a vote until the public has at least 24 hours to make their voices heard on the matter.
Responses to the proposed return dates have been varied. A petition posted by an anonymous SDA student soon followed the announcement on Oct. 15 on Change.org. The petition urges individuals to sign “to prove to the board that with the current health crisis, the district is not ready for students and teachers to return safely.” At the writing of this article, the petition had 1,249 signatures out of a goal of 1,500.
However, a recent survey sent out by the school district claims that 80% of students who answered the survey wished to return to school on-campus once it opened. Although, this statistic has not been verified.
In addition to proposed dates for students to begin returning to on-campus education, the board made the decision during the Oct. 14 meeting to require teachers to return to teaching from campus at the end of the first quarter on Oct. 29, prompting much backlash from teachers across the district.
“I fully support our first amendment right to voice our opinions,” said Mossy in response to the recent backlash. “Being a California credentialed teacher myself, I fully support and believe in teachers rights. I also believe demonstrating is within the rights of everyone. We value and respect all our staff, we want to keep them safe and we want to address their needs as well as the needs of all staff and students. We hear them and we care,” she said.
Mossy voted to have teachers return to on-campus schooling on the proposed date, citing her trust in “recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other professionally respected organizations such as the CDC and World Health Organization.”
Beth Hergeshiemer, the sole board member who voted against the proposed return dates to in-person schooling, said she hopes “to see our teachers back on campus at least part time, in person, especially so that students may have more in-person opportunities one-on-one or in small groups.”
The return of teachers back on campus will be handled “the same way as the return of staff was handled, who have been on campus since the beginning of the school year,” said Mossy. She added that “Dr. Haley submitted two approved side agreements to the board, signed by both the classified and certificated employee organizations, stating their demands for returning. He informed us we could meet those demands.”
“If [teachers] are not planning to come back they need to reach out to and work with HR,” said Mossy, and that “there are various programs in place for leave.”
According to voted-upon legislation from the SDUHSD board, “All on-campus activity will follow the California Department of Public Health Guidance for K-12 schools.” This is reflected in the district’s Safe Reopening Plan, created in accordance with the California Public Health Department, which Haley brought to attention in a SignalKit message to all parents and students in the district.
The 36-slide presentation details these precautions, including increased spacing between desks, mask requirements for all students and staff, sanitization between classes, daily symptom screenings for students, the employ of HEPA air purifiers, and maintaining a six-foot distance between students “as practicable,” according to the presentation.
The term “as practicable” appears frequently throughout the Safe Reopening Plan, which SDUHSD board member Beth Hergesheimer clarifies as a phrase which “differentiates between guidelines that are required, and those that are recommended but perhaps not possible under the circumstances.” She continues to say that “this phrase has been part of the ongoing discussion, including changing interpretations and enforcement information, with our governmental agencies regarding when and how we might actually bring students back on campus.”
In response to the term “as practicable” when referring to social distancing, Mossy said she spoke with a public health officer for San Diego County in order to determine that “for the San Dieguito Union High School District it is not practical for ‘small, stable cohorts’ and can determine physical distancing as practical, and we would still be in compliance with the public health order.”
Additionally, “teachers and staff would have much more than the minimum requirement of PPE [personal protective equipment] and there is PPE stockpiled for staff already available,” said Mossy.
As for the mask requirement, masks are strictly required for all students and staff, however “there are extenuating situations, for certain special education students for example, where we have an adjusted policy,” said Mossy.
“My understanding is that if a student can not wear a mask for the general return to on-campus instruction they will, by default, need to be a participant in distance learning. That said, when a student returns to campus, we are planning for places and times when students can safely remove their masks for ‘mask breaks’,” said Hergesheimer.
Additionally, the district took on the addition of Tina Peterson, director of Human Resources, who will act as the district’s liaison for all things related to COVID-19. Working closely with district nurses, Peterson will be responsible for contract tracing and notifying local health officials about any confirmed COVID-19 cases.
While in-person school may soon be back in session for the majority of students, many groups of students have already been returning to campus since September. “A prioritized list of students to be brought back was approved and in September we started implementing our plan by bringing Special Education students back on campuses in cohorts. We have continued to bring back these prioritized groups of students,” said Hergesheimer.
Additionally, “clubs have been able to arrange on-campus meet-ups, and many other activities have been initiated such as bringing incoming 7th graders onto their new campus for welcoming activities and finally working through the red-tape and getting athletic programs back onto our facilities,” said Hergesheimer.
“Of course, there will continue to be a distance learning option all year,” said Hergesheimer.
The school board will be meeting again to ratify the proposed reopening plan on October 29th, according to Haley in a message sent to SDUHSD board members.