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Oceanside elementary students back in school

OCEANSIDE — Oceanside public schools’ reopening last week for in-person instruction in elementary grades went relatively smoothly, though matching shifting student demands with various COVID-related programs’ capacities is an ongoing challenge.

The Oceanside Unified School District has had certain subsets of students back on campuses since August, after several months of state-mandated school shutdowns due to COVID-19. But Monday, Nov. 9 marked the first return of a broad group, including youth between transitional kindergarten (TK) and grade 5.

Secondary students, grades 6-12, will continue to take classes virtually, delivered from their regularly assigned schools, tentatively until Jan. 11. As long as San Diego County remains in the Purple tier — the most restrictive of four state-defined COVID risk categories — students in these grades can’t return for in-person instruction.

Elementary students returned under a “hybrid instructional model,” whereby grade cohorts are divided into two groups, which trade-off days of receiving instruction in the classroom. Group A goes to school while Group B completes assigned work virtually, and vice versa.

The attendance rate on the first day back was 97%.

Some families opted not to send their elementary students back to school. Some 500 enrolled in the district’s new Surfside Academy, which offers year-round virtual, independent study and homeschool curricula. As of last week, the Surfside waitlist included about 130 students.

Surfside elementary classes “are all filled to the contracted maximum,” Assistant Superintendent Mercedes Lovie said at the school board’s Nov. 10 meeting.

One difficulty the district faces is matching staff assignments and new hiring against projected enrollments in various programs. The district gauged parents’ preferences several times throughout the fall, planning to staff accordingly.

“We were staffed for what we were given,” Assistant Superintendent Todd McAteer said. “We give a little bit of time to let families settle and shift and make those decisions, in terms of what’s going to work best for them, [and then] do a reconfirmation” before moving staff.

“More families … are finding out that the hybrid model is a fit for them, and that it’s a safe opportunity for them,” Director of Student Services Jordy Sparks said. “They’re withdrawing … from the Surfside list and we’re re-enrolling them back into their current school site. It really is a daily process.”

The district also runs an “Expanded Enrichment” program, which offers full-day supervision for students at 15 school sites while parents are working. As of last week, the program had 350 students enrolled and 209 on the waitlist, including 115 at Reynolds Elementary. District staff said they’re investigating why the waitlist is so large at that particular school.

Even while in the Purple tier, schools open for in-person instruction will stay open, closing only if 5% or more of students and staff contract the virus.

“You can see the importance of making sure that, as we have symptoms, we stay home, so we do not have larger outbreaks,” Lovie said.

The administration asks that staff and parents self-monitor and self-police, staying home or keeping their kids home for up to 14 days, depending on circumstances.

The district hopes this month to establish a drive-through site for free COVID testing.

Oceanside Unified has spent about $12 million so far on COVID mitigation measures, including personal protective equipment (e.g., plexiglass barriers, handwashing stations, air filters); technology (e.g., wireless hotspots for students); instructional support (e.g., classroom supplies for students working at home); and temporary personnel (e.g., extra nurses and custodians).