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Districts vary on timetables for bringing students back on campus

San Diego County was officially removed from the state's COVID-19 monitoring list Tuesday, Aug. 18, meaning a two-week countdown was began until county schools could consider reopening campuses to students.

Locally, school districts are taking slightly different approaches to bring students back to campus.

According to Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez, superintendent of Fallbrook Union High School District, the exact date that the process will begin is still a bit unclear.

"As you know, from the beginning we said we would transition to different instructional models following the six-week grading period when progress reports come out," Garza-Gonzalez said Friday, Aug. 28. "It just made the most sense to us. So, that puts us that Sept. 23. And we honestly have not had a conversation with the reopening committee – we will this coming week to discuss if we're going to transition into a hybrid model, or if we're going to maybe try three additional weeks, which would put us maybe a week later, a week after the elementary."

Garza-Gonzalez was referring to an announcement by Candace Singh, superintendent of Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, recently.

"To ensure we are effectively prepared to open our schools safely, we have identified Oct. 5, as the target date for reopening our schools, and we will do so in a blended or hybrid model," Singh said in a statement distributed to district stakeholders. "While we are hopeful for an Oct. 5 reopening date, this timeline is not set in stone and may change depending on public health data within our own community.

"FUESD leadership will be presenting a complete reopening plan to the public at the Sept. 14 governing board meeting. More information regarding how to attend this meeting digitally will be provided in the coming days," Singh said.

Garza-Gonzalez said she and the committee will take care to finalize a plan, given the differences between elementary students and high school students.

"High school is completely different," she said. "Even today in a meeting I was in, a lot of the superintendents were saying, 'You know, so much of the guidance is around elementary, but you can't do, stationary cohorts at a high school.' Right. Because the science teacher needs their lab room. The welding teacher needs their tools. It's a little bit harder. And even though we are fairly confident, because we've walked every classroom, that we could in a hybrid model, guarantee 6 feet apart, it's the passing periods. Because half of the kids still puts us at a thousand (students on campus)."

Then Garza-Gonzalez said, there's the issue of mandatory masks on students.

"Even at the beginning when everybody was talking about how are you going to keep a mask on a second grader?" she said. "I was thinking, how are you going to keep the mask on high schooler? You don't want a mask to become the reason why they're not there. It's a conversation that we definitely need to have and explore and then maybe even see what happens with some of the elementary schools that open up."

Garza-Gonzalez said she was surprised by how quickly the school year is going by so far and she is thrilled with how the teachers, staff, and students are handling the virtual learning environment.

"I've been very impressed with what our teachers have been doing and the distance learning model," she said. "We haven't really (received) a lot of pushback. Obviously, our greatest concern continues to be the students that need the additional support. And maybe that's where we begin is bringing back small cohorts of students that need that additional support.

"We have a lot of students that ride the bus and that's where we're like, there's no way. If we put them one to a seat, how many trips does the bus have to make, even in a hybrid model? Those are all things we're exploring."

According to David Jones, superintendent of Bonsall Unified School District, the district is currently in negotiations with the teachers union in anticipation of reopening with some form of in-person learning.

"We are hopeful this will be completed expeditiously," Jones said.

In a report issued recently to district stakeholders, Jones said the district has completed a reopening plan in compliance with the California Department of Public Health guidance requirements that was approved by the district's board of trustees, Aug. 12.

"Please know that district administration, the board of trustees and I have an interest in bringing students back at the earliest date possible," Jones said in the report. "We understand many families are placed in a difficult situation with children remaining at home to receive their education, and we are taking all necessary steps to bring our students back and educate them in person as soon as we are able.

"I will continue to share updates with our families as we navigate the required steps to bring students back to our schools, and I thank you for your patience and understanding during these unique and challenging circumstances."

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected].


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