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Del Mar Unified looks ahead to a more normal school year

DEL MAR — The Del Mar Unified School District says it has not had any positive cases within the district since March as it continues planning for the 2021-2022 school year with health and safety as a top priority.

Full, in-person instruction remains the goal as it has been with the district for some time, but the district says it will have to re-evaluate the distance learning option it has been offering to its students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of our families have indicated a choice of their school and program for next year. And what we have learned is that the interest in distance learning is much lower than what we were initially expecting,” said Jenni Huh, director of student services for the district. “So, we do know that distance learning next year will be very different than what we’ve offered for our Launch distance learning program.”

Huh says the district will re-evaluate how it plans to offer distance learning in the coming school year for families based on a medical necessity.

When discussing its plans, the district also mentioned a study of district staff conducted by UC San Diego that found that 92% of staff members surveyed have either been vaccinated already or are planning to get the vaccine.

“So, looking at the case rate in the community, the low transmission rate among children, the fact our staff is vaccinated, we’re really looking at a safe environment for our students for next year,” Huh said.

Under the current agreement with the Del Mar California Teachers Association, class sizes will have a cap of 22 students for kindergarten through third grade with fourth through sixth having a cap of 28 students. The district says that some classes may go over this cap and in that case the district will pay a fee per student over the cap.

“We have a commitment to class size that will be a conversation as we continue to have discussions about the 2021-2022 school year,” Assistant Superintendent Jason Romero said. “We continue to get input from stakeholders that maintaining slightly smaller class sizes and cohorts remains to be important.”

The district has been open for in-person instruction for most of the year, with the district reporting an increase in enrollment as families move their children into the district to get the in-person learning they desire.

Another priority for the district is the mental health of the students.

“We do anticipate that students will be returning next year with some unique needs related to the pandemic,” Huh said. “And we want to be able to prioritize support for social and emotional needs that also supports our teachers and instructors in the classroom.”

To that end, the district plans on adding two new counselors to help address those social and emotional needs of all students. Additionally, the district is considering hiring a licensed mental health clinician. That position would look to help students with “more intensive” mental health needs.

This fits into the school’s multi-tiered system of support for students, with the first tier being proactive prevention, the second being targeted support for students and the third being for those students who require more intensive help from a licensed mental health clinician.

Holly McClurg, superintendent of DMUSD, says in many ways the preparation for this coming school year feels like a return to normal.

“We’re really looking forward to the next school year feeling much like school years have felt in the past in many ways,” McClurg said. “And in other ways we’ll be able to apply everything we’ve learned during this extraordinary experience this year.”