EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify certain percentages used to show students’ overall grades.
CARLSBAD — In yet another twist in the ongoing debate over the return to in-person learning amid COVID-19, the Carlsbad Unified School District unanimously approved pushing back reopening plans for middle and high school students to Jan. 5.
Trustees Ray Pearson and Veronica Williams wanted to start Nov. 30 as approved two weeks ago, but Trustee Elisa Williamson made a sudden reversal, swinging the vote to extend reopening during the board’s Oct. 28 meeting.
The board also approved ventilation, air filtration and other COVID-19 mitigation strategies during its most recent meeting.
Classes will resume in-person Jan. 5 and run through June 10 in a two-cohort model, according to Assistant Superintendent Rob Nye. Upon returning to school, Carlsbad High School students will attend three classes twice per week on a block schedule, while Sage Creek High School students will also have a block schedule with five classes two times per week.
As for middle school, the board approved a hybrid schedule with in-person classes in the morning and distance learning in the afternoon. Students will attend in-person for three hours, two days per week, said Superintendent Ben Churchill.
Despite the new protocols and measures, Williams and Pearson voiced serious concerns with students’ academic performance.
According to data collected by the district and reported by Nye, middle and high school students in all classes earning an “F” is up nearly 311.5% this year over the same grading period in 2019-20, Williams said.
Also, “D” and “C” letter grades are up nearly 60% and 11%, respectively, while “A” and “B” grades are down nearly 5% and 19%, respectively.
“Every day is a battle for some students,” Williams said. “Student Some teachers think the DL (distance learning) plus-model is working because teachers have adjusted to this current model. And it is working for some students but based on the past grading period it is not working for most students.”
Also, the board approved in a split vote to institute a pilot program to address students who are struggling, which took the CUSD administration by surprise.
The board did not give CUSD administrators a timeline or specific direction or a total number of students to join the program, instead, leaving those decisions to staff in addition to planning for reopening on Jan. 5.
Trustees Kathy Rallings, Claudine Jones and Williamson pointed to the Poway Unified School District as an example pilot program and its success. Poway Unified began its in-person special education pilot program several weeks ago.
“We do it with summer school all the time,” Rallings said. “We also offer special services under different programs, so I think those students most in need can be identified for a pilot. In my view, it’s a good compromise.”
As for the ventilation systems, they include fresh air intake through HVAC units with minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) filters, along with installing HEPA units to supplement HVAC filtration. One negative impact, according to Assistant Superintendent Chris Wright, is doors and windows should be closed. If left open, it increases the risk the HVAC units will freeze as the rise in energy output causes failures.
Parents will also consent to symptom screenings as will students, although students cannot be forced to take a COVID-19 test. Teachers will also be provided plexiglass dividers.
The Carlsbad Unified Teachers Association, meanwhile, was happy with the result. Earlier in the day, about 300 teachers, parents and students rallied at Sage Creek High School to urge the trustees to push back the start date.
About 100 parents and students also arrived to support reopening on Nov. 30.
“The board also voted to have everyone transition on the same date,” said CUTA President Lindsey Gordon. “That is a huge victory for our community. Parents and teachers need to have time to transition and do it smoothly. Allowing everyone to transition at the same time will help parents with childcare and have time to make plans. It will give teachers ample time to plan and prepare for new ways of teaching.”