ENCINITAS — Wrapping up a tumultuous end to the 2019-2020 school year, Encinitas school districts are unable to definitively announce how students and educators will return this fall with respect to COVID-19, prompting concern from families, community members and local officials.
On April 28, the San Diego County Office of Education published a series of “COVID-19 planning assumptions” to guide school districts in creating possible contingency plans. As a result, districts and school boards began to flush out multiple options and poll families, staff, and the community for their opinions.
However, all three Encinitas School Districts — San Dieguito Union High School District, Encinitas Union School District and Cardiff School District — remain unable to solidify any logistics without the official approval from the county and state boards of education.
Among the recommended contingency plans released by the county, officials suggested three education models to schools.
Option One: Reducing the number of students allowed on campus to 50%, thus alternating between in-person and at-home assignments. Two equal groups of students would attend in-person learning either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday.
Option Two: Limiting the daily number of students on campus to 20%, diving all classes into five equal groups in which each group receives one full day of in-person instruction and four days of assignments to complete at home.
Option Three: For districts and charter schools that can provide universal internet access, pair Option 1 or 2 with a classroom webcast to provide direct instruction five days a week.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear was among the first officials to raise concerns over such a hybrid education model as Option Three, noting that schools, like businesses, are a vital part of reopening the economy, impacting parents’ ability to work.
“My fear is that schools are headed towards a future where parents have to shoulder the responsibility of teaching their own children and this will not work for parents or the kids,” Blakespear told the Coast News. “It’s a lose-lose situation.”
“I fear that if the public schools enact something like this hybrid model, you’re going to have an exodus out of the public school system… and that would be terrible,” Blakespear said.
Blakespear suggested the same health protocols ensuring the safety of working Fire and Marine Safety employees could be adapted to public schools, providing for safe environments for both educators and students.
“Barring a severe second wave, we need to adapt to a new normal considering we won’t have a vaccine for a while.”
In communications sent to each respective district, Superintendents addressed the concerns and challenges facing local education plans, explaining each district’s current status.
Superintendent Robert Haley addressed the SDUHSD community, announcing that while schools will start on August 25, “we have no idea what [official] restrictions and/or required protocols will be in place.”
Haley assured families the district was “developing a variety of possible models of learning… in-person, online, and/or hybrid… which are meant to be flexible, adaptable, and to adhere to health standards and physical distancing protocols, as required.”
In an email to Cardiff families, school district Superintendent Jill Vinson listed the complicated number of variables in play including teacher and parent input, health and safety protocols, space availability, budgetary considerations, state education and instructional requirements and public health mandates for an August 25th open.
As evidenced in the Office of Education’s “planning assumptions,” a requirement to abide by the state-mandated 6-feet social distancing protocol is central to any and all plans to reopen classrooms.
Currently, the state and county have not announced whether students and educators must abide by such social distancing protocols required by businesses and places of worship, as well as work.
“Public health protocols and physical space availability in each classroom… will inform how many students can be safely educated at one time,” Vinson wrote.
Encinitas Union School District, which will resume classes August 17, issued a statement to its students and families, expressing the district’s desire for students to return to school five days a week, but noted that “we can do so only if county public health officials determine it is safe.”
Each school district spent recent weeks seeking opinions from both families as well as educators, staff, and officials, but none have officially released their results.
“I’m hopeful that enough parents and school board members affiliated with [local businesses], who want to get the economy back on track as quickly as possible, will recognize the importance of parents being able to work and not have to manage their children’s schooling at home.”
According to Blakespear, school districts can not make any decisions or definitive plans until the state and county give them the power to do so.
Education officials expected Governor Newsom to make a statement on the matter the last week of May, however, he did not, postponing an official announcement.
Newsom is again expected to make an announcement this week, however at the time of publishing, his office had not done so.