Most parents of school children across the country are patiently waiting to hear when their schools are reopening. Much to the chagrin of some, reopening just isn’t going to happen that simply in CUSD. Even President of the school board, Julie Russell, seemed confused about the reasons why. But all parents and board members really ought to carefully read the updates that come out roughly weekly from the superintendent, click on all of the links embedded in the updates, and even try to read the board agendas (or at least skim – they are hundreds of pages long) if they want to understand how, when, and whether schools will open.
The first thing is, local districts don’t get to simply choose whether to open or not. They are expected to follow both state and county health and reopening guidelines. Most parents know that now that San Diego has fallen out of the most stringent tier because our case rates have fallen (although we are dangerously close to climbing back above that line), schools are allowed to reopen. True – but not so fast. The tier that we are in allows schools to open for up to 25% of the capacity of their facilities. Given that, CUSD notified the public on August 26 that the schools, the week of September 14, would welcome back certain “cohorts” one by one, with priority given to: “the lowest-performing students, students with disabilities, elementary level students, students at risk of child abuse and neglect, homeless students, foster youth and English learners. On-campus instruction will also be prioritized for students performing below standards in ELA, Math, and for subjects that are difficult to deliver through virtual learning (lab sciences, art, VAPA, CTE, etc.)” (page 291 of agenda from 9/10 – LCAP 2020-2021).
So, if you are inclined to think about the problem quite simply, as Julie Russell, president of the governing board, clearly was in the September 10 meeting, you would pull out your calculator and multiply .25 times the total enrollment from last year (using that as a proxy for capacity – which is, perhaps, a rough estimate, but still flawed). In that case, you would expect about 750 students to be returning this week. They won’t be. Russell got pretty riled up at the meeting, almost shouting about why it couldn’t be that the students couldn’t come back if even just to sit far apart from one another in the ceramics studio. It is unclear why she fixated on the ceramics studio, but it was quite evident that she did not understand the responses of both the superintendent, who tried to explain that if you brought back 25% of students (to sit in the ceramics studio?) while the other 75% were still at home, it might interfere with “continuity of learning,” and the director of learning who tried to explain that the decisions were not driven solely by numbers, but also by the need to follow thoughtful health guidelines by bringing back cohorts and ensuring their health stability over a period of at least two weeks prior to bringing more students to campus (it seems that Russell may not have read or internalized the documents that were linked to the official statements or included in the agenda packet. This one tells you about stable cohorts: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/small-groups-child-youth.aspx).
Apparently, Russell’s main concern is getting “butts in seats,” education and health be damned. She was not alone, however, as Maria Simon joined her in calling for a quicker and bigger return to campus, while also admitted that neither of the two of them have school aged children of their own to offer up as guinea pigs. Notably, in fact, not one board member does have although Helen Anderson Cruz has a grandchild in the district. And, Esther Clayton Valdes often notes that she comes from a family of educators.
Perhaps that is why they sat (both literally and figuratively) on the other end of the dais in trying to point out that there are health concerns to be taken into account. Valdes Clayton mentioned teacher deaths in the news to which Russell became apoplectic having perhaps not seen the news, saying, “you can’t just say things.” To this, Valdes Clayton responded that “facts are facts” and noting that San Diego County is dangerously close to the edge of falling back into the state’s most restrictive color category (This might have been the news story that Valdes Clayton was referencing: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-deaths-young-teachers-new-school-year-begins/). Anderson Cruz added a precise local fact to bolster the point about openly safely when she mentioned that Our Lady of Peace had had to close quickly after reopening because of cases of covid. What is it with women with two last names spouting straight facts? Whatever it is, the other two women, with only one last name each, weren’t having any of it.
As per usual, Captain Lee Pontes stood in the middle, also wanting more students in school and also being skeptical of the facts since he said you can see one news site saying cases are going up and another contradicting that (he doesn’t seem to know about the official data on county level case rates, which can be found here: https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/#reopening-data). He just wasn’t as vociferous as the other two. And, more than anything, Pontes wanted to see a fuller plan from the district.
As it currently stands, the district’s plan has two phases: Phase 1 (beginning this week), with the planned return of moderate to severe cohorts and Phase 2 beginning the week of October 4 with cohorts of students with mild to moderate disabilities, certain English language learners, elementary students receiving reading intervention, and TK-1st grade.
The superintendent reiterated several times that the administration is there to hear guidance from the board. The clear guidance was to flesh out the plan soon (Pontes seemed to be suggesting within the week). Time will tell if the administration has taken the board’s guidance to also balance numbers and speed more heavily than health and learning.
Here’s the link to this portion of the board meeting: https://coronadousdca.swagit.com/play/09112020-651
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