REGION — San Dieguito Union High School District board trustees expressed frustration at their Jan. 14 meeting about uncertainty in implementing COVID-related safety measures and school closures, even as state officials released new guidance the same day.
The district, which operates 10 middle and high school campuses, serving some 13,000 students, has not fully reopened for in-person instruction.
State and county health departments restrict schools from reopening as long as the county remains in the so-called Purple Tier, the highest of four state-defined COVID risk categories.
The continued closure also follows a recent settlement with the San Dieguito Faculty Association, a teachers’ union bargaining unit, which sued the district last month in an effort to block plans to reopen in January.
“The agreement includes pausing expansion of general in-person instruction for the remainder of the second quarter,” which ends Jan. 22, according to the district’s web site. “It does not preclude continuing the current classes, programs, and activities taking place on our campuses” with certain subgroups of students.
“We are not the experts who came up with [these restrictions],” Trustee Melisse Mossy said Jan. 14. “Whether you agree with it or you don’t agree with it, I would encourage you to take that up at the state level. Please don’t take it out on us.”
“It’s only natural that we would feel whiplashed and confused and frustrated and angry,” Trustee Katrina Young said. “Stop pointing fingers, stop making accusations, start realizing that we all share the same frustrations. … Know that we are going to do everything possible within our limits, to get kids on campus and allow them to go about their lives, because that’s what we all want.”
Asked whether the local teachers’ union has clearly articulated its desired preconditions for expanding in-person instruction, Superintendent Robert Hale said: “I would be cautious about answering that question here in open session. … There’s some legal stuff that I don’t want this board to get sideways with.”
“The parent community has no visibility of what those conversations [between the district and the union] have resulted in,” since such meetings aren’t public or recorded, Ginny Merrifield of the Parent Association of North County San Diego, an advocacy group, told The Coast News.
“Communication has not been what it needs to be to build trust and confidence in the community,” she said.
“We’re hearing many comments [from the public] on communication,” School Board President Maureen Muir said.
“I’ve heard the same questions like six, eight, 10 times now,” Trustee Mike Allman said, referring to ongoing confusion about whether privacy laws prohibit the district from informing people when they’ve come into close contact with a positive COVID-19 case.
“We do alert everybody on a campus” if there’s been a positive test case, Haley said. “But we can’t make it too narrow, because the concern is that people will then try to figure out who it was.”
The state health department issued updated and consolidated guidance for schools last week. While the school board hasn’t yet publicly discussed potential implications, the new guidelines reiterate that “schools may not reopen for grades 7-12 if the county is in Purple Tier.”