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Families and students host a rally at the San Dieguito Union High School District offices on Oct. 21 in Encinitas, urging a moderate approach to in-person learning. Photos courtesy of Open San Dieguito Safely
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San Dieguito Union further delays in-person learning to late November

ENCINITAS — According to the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD), the majority of students and faculty will not return to campuses until late November, allowing the district more time to purchase “health and safety items” and to establish reopening procedures with faculty.

During a special meeting on Oct. 28, the SDUHSD Board of Trustees reinstated a limited resolution declaring “emergency conditions” and granting Superintendent Dr. Robert Haley limited purchasing powers to acquire reopening materials in agreement with the Board.

Haley confirmed that the bulk of students will not return to on-campus instruction until late November, a reversal from his previous goal of returning students to campuses beginning Nov. 9.

Additionally, not all teachers will return to campuses on October 29, as previously announced during an Oct. 14 board meeting. According to Haley, teachers will instead return in phases as determined by principals at each school.

“A great deal of activity and planning is taking place as we speak,” Haley said. “I want to make sure that as we move forward, we do it in a way that’s sustainable. I don’t want to end up in a space where we have dozens of staff and hundreds of students being quarantined.”

The resolution and Superintendent’s executive purchasing power will extend until December 31, 2020.

The Board had previously granted such authority in March of 2020, however, at a recent September meeting, Trustees chose to revoke the State of California’s “emergency conditions,” unaware of possible purchasing consequences.

During the Oct. 28 meeting, the Board discussed the language of the resolution, debating whether the wording would provide the structure and transparency SDUHSD families have requested.

Modifications to the resolution included adding an official expiration date of December 31, 2020, changing the wording “in coordination with” to “in agreement with” as a way of clarifying the Board’s role in purchases, as well as limiting the purchasing powers to “health and safety items.”

The full Oct. 28 SDUHSD Board of Trustees meeting can be viewed here.

Open San Dieguito Safely
Photo courtesy of “Open San Dieguito Safely”

In response to questions raised during public comments as well as board members themselves, Dr. Haley clarified that the wording “emergency conditions” originates with the State of California and does not represent a recent change in the District’s status.

“This purely has to do with our ability to keep purchasing certain equipment,” Haley said. “I want to make that very clear [and] don’t want to leave any doubt about that.”

Tina Douglas, SDUHSD Associate Superintendent, further defined the difference between Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the “health and safety items” prompting the renewed resolution.

“We have enough PPE,” Douglas said. “PPE are the items used on a person’s body. The [district’s need for] HEPA filters, which is why this agenda item is coming back, is a device used to help ventilation.”

According to Douglas, the district has continually purchased HEPA filters in phases in previous months, initially stocking classrooms and shared spaces. However, in entering the third phase of HEPA acquisition, the district began encroaching upon their own purchasing limit without the emergency resolution which they, themselves, rescinded in September.

Currently, the district does not have enough filters on-site, but according to Douglas, the appropriate number has been ordered.

The district is also approaching its threshold on purchasing tents for outdoor instruction.

In previous weeks, families on both sides of the debate have voiced frustration with the District’s communication between teachers and parents.

Julie Bronstein, a parent of three SDUHSD students, spoke at a “Think! Rally” on Oct. 21 alongside 100 families, students, and teachers in support of a “slower and safer” re-opening schedule.

“We want our children back in the classroom as soon as is safely possible but we also don’t want to compromise academic integrity,” Bronstein said, fearing that an expedited return to on-campus learning would compromise the quality of students’ educations as well as the safety of faculty.

To date, over 2,200 individuals have signed an online petition generated by “Concerned SDUHSD Parents” asking the SDUHSD Board of Trustees to adopt a slower, “more sensible” approach to reopening.

According to Bronstein, signers of the petition are worried that a hasty return will cause further issues down the line with not just students’ health but also the retention of experienced faculty members.

“We hope that the district is not putting teachers in the untenable decision of needing to choose between caring for their own families vs. teaching our children,” Bronstein said. “Currently, teachers are teaching from their safe, well-equipped home offices. We would like teachers to return to school when their classrooms have the necessary technology and PPE.”