DEL MAR — Administrators at Del Mar Union School District supported the school board’s decision in September to keep elementary schools open despite COVID-19, citing a summary of epidemiological evidence at the school board’s Jan. 27 meeting.
“We’re open and it’s working,” Director of Student Services Jennifer Huh told school board trustees. “We continue to have had no outbreaks. We have not had any school transmission.”
The Del Mar elementary school district operates eight K-6 campuses, serving about 4,100 students.
“Reduced class sizes, use of outdoor learning spaces, and the implementation of health and safety protocols allow for the safe return to school five days each week,” according to the district’s web site. Whereas other “districts with large class sizes must consider implementing a hybrid schedule [half the week on campus, half online from home] due to the district’s inability to effectively reduce class sizes low enough for adequate distancing.”
Enrollment in Del Mar schools is increasing, with students “moving over from charter schools, moving over from private schools, as well as moving into the district,” Assistant Superintendent Shelley Petersen said. “Often the reason [principals hear from families] is: ‘Well, because you’re one of the districts that’s open and my child needs an in-person experience.’ They’re actually renting places within our district so their children can attend school.”
“We’re able to collect data and see … that our schools are a safe place for learning and for students,” Huh said. Specifically, she pointed to a Dec. 20 report from the California Department of Public Health.
“In epidemiological studies globally and nationally, the evidence suggests that children seem to get COVID-19 less frequently than adults,” according to the report. “Originally it was thought that they might be less frequently diagnosed due to less testing because children are more often asymptomatic or have less severe symptoms. However, population-wide studies in Iceland and Spain using antibody tests that assess prior infection at any time find that children have lower rates of infection compared to adults.”
An Australian study put the child-to-child transmission rate at 0.3%, compared to 1% for child-to-adult transmission, 1.5% for adult-to-child transmission, and 4.4% for adult-to-adult transmission.
“Children who do contract COVID-19 most often get it from a household contact,” Huh said.
“This indicates that we have more control over in-school transmission since adults are more likely to be able to adhere to policies for mitigation strategies,” according to the health department’s summary report. “Core strategies include: masks; physical distancing; small, stable groups; hand hygiene; ventilation; screening for symptoms or close contact; and asymptomatic testing. Each layer provides additional protection and, when used together, have been associated with low or zero transmission, even in communities with high COVID-19 prevalence.”
“We all are very clear about what we need to do to educate our children during a pandemic,” Superintendent Holly McClurg told trustees.
“I don’t even see [learning] loss” amongst students whose parents opted for online rather than in-person instruction, McClurg said. “We have very engaged parents who are acting as learning coaches for our children in our [online] program.”
Huh said she expects education and childcare workers in San Diego County will begin receiving vaccinations “within the next few weeks.”