ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District’s safety plan was rejected by the state on March 7, preventing students from returning to campus in some capacities this week, according to a recent announcement.
Superintendent Robert Haley was optimistic students would return to campus Monday, March 9, after the school’s safety plans were approved by San Diego County Public Health in late February. The plans were then submitted to the California Department of Public Health on Feb. 27 and subsequently denied via email this past Sunday evening.
The email from the state said the district, along with several other North County school districts, was “approved with conditions,” allowing only struggling students in cohorts to return to campus.
Haley announced his disapproval in a statement released Monday, where he claimed the denial is inconsistent with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initiative to get students back into classrooms.
“We are incredibly frustrated and displeased by this decision as our San Diego County Public Health Officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, and her team after a thorough review approved our request prior to submitting it to the Safe Schools for All Team,” Haley wrote. “The same letter we received denying our request was also sent to Carlsbad Unified School District and Poway Unified School District. Last night I met directly with Dr. Naomi Bardach, head of the state’s Safe Schools for All Team, and Brooks Allen, of the California Board of Education, to appeal the decision. Dr. Bardach was unwilling to change the ruling and said it was final.”
San Dieguito school district administrators had hoped to bring students back to campus this week, offering in-person learning to students who wished to do so.
Haley sent a follow-up letter to the state urging the approval of in-person learning on March 2, citing safety precautions in place by the district, including ventilation upgrades, filtration devices and disinfectant protocols, along with contact tracing and quarantine efforts.
However, the state’s response said the district was denied for one or more of the following reasons: an insufficient record of implementing safety protocols; intermittent student activity on campus in pilot classes, not ongoing instruction; students have been on campus, but not indoors; high levels of transmission or outbreaks in schools and/or “inadequate remediate actions” after infection and outbreaks; insufficient planning for asymptomatic testing.
A firestorm erupted on social media following reports of Bardach’s ruling, with a number of parents pointing out that her husband is Jonathan Katzman, chief product officer at Minerva, a remote learning software company, which they say poses a conflict of interest, as first reported by The Coast News.
Additionally, many think Bardach’s ruling was hypocritical, especially after she wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in August entitled, “Kids Aren’t Big COVID-19 Spreaders. Really.” In the piece, Bardach suggests that high schools are treated “more like adult workplaces” and that “when it comes to elementary school, there are ways to reopen safely for in-person instruction.”
The denial couldn’t come at a worse time, as schools across the state continue to re-open for in-person learning as counties slowly but surely transition from the purple tier to the less restrictive red tier. District parents have long argued that distance learning was never a long-term solution for students.
A group of parents filed suit against Newsom and other state officials last month in hopes of getting students back on campus.
Distance learning has also created divisions between students, parents, teachers and district administrators.
The district plans to expand in-person learning as coronavirus cases in the county continue to drop.
Residents wishing to share their concerns about this decision may use the Safe Schools for All portal or contact Governor Newsom’s office with any questions or concerns you may have.