San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten speaks at press conference announcing that schools will close beginning on Monday, March 16, amid the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post was updated with new information at 2 p.m. on March 16.

Officials for San Diego County’s 43 school districts all made the agonizing decision Friday to close schools across the entire region, knowing that many students may go without food or care and that many will fall behind in their learning.

The logistics surrounding the roughly 500,000 students who attend school Monday through Friday in the county are largely taken for granted; school districts are having to come up with detailed and unprecedented plans that address everything from online learning to health and hunger.

Here’s what we know as of Monday afternoon about San Diego Unified School District’s closure plans:

  • San Diego Unified, the second largest school district in the state, will remain closed through the end of Spring Break, until April 6. Board trustee Richard Barrera told me the decision of whether to re-open schools at that time will likely be no less difficult than the decision to close Friday. Some districts have already decided to stay closed longer. The San Diego County Office of Education’s webpage will likely continue to update information on school closures.
  • The district will use nine schools as food pick-up centers. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., families will be able to pick up lunch (and breakfast for the next day) at a drive-through at each site. Kearny High, Clark Middle, Farb Middle, Cherokee Point Elementary, Sherman Elementary, Zamorano Elementary, Walker Elementary and O’Farrell Charter will serve as the pick-up sites starting Monday. Starting Tuesday Porter Elementary will be added as food pick-up site. District officials said they had 1,600 meals ready on Monday – even though roughly 60,000 students districtwide receive free or reduced-price lunch. It’s hard to know how many people may show up for the meals and the district should be able to produce many more without trouble, said Barrera. Here’s a link to San Diego Unified’s webpage with information related to closures.
  • Some school police will continue to work. They will be stationed at each of the food distribution schools.
  • Principals have been told not to distribute tablets or computers to their students. This runs counter to decisions made by Los Angeles Unified and West Contra Costa Unified district officials, who have sent many students home with devices, according to EdSource. I asked Superintendent Cindy Marten why they made the decision not to promote more online learning through sending home the devices. She said because the district doesn’t have enough laptops for everyone, some students would get left out. She thought it would create more inequity by giving some, instead of all students, devices.
  • Teachers across the district were furiously printing out work packets to send home with their students on Friday. Anthony DeLuca, principal of Rolando Park Elementary, told me that he is trying to drive home a firm message to his parents: “This is not a vacation. Limit video games. Make sure they are reading and practicing math every day. Make sure they’re writing. It isn’t playtime.” Rolando Park is a school with relatively high percentages of poverty that tends to perform much better academically than other peer schools. DeLuca seemed anxious about how much his students might fall behind over this protracted break and said he and his teachers would have lots of conversations about how to pick up the pace once school is back in session.
  • The work teachers sent home is considered “enrichment,” rather than actual assignments, Marten said at a Friday press conference. That means it isn’t mandatory and teachers won’t grade it. District officials – led by the district’s instructional support officer Wendy Ranck-Buhr – created a set of lesson plans that have now been uploaded to the district’s website. There are 10 days’ worth of lessons for each grade level. The district also provided links to different educational apps that have been “vetted” by the district, Marten said at press conference Monday.
  • Some local private schools like Francis Parker are trying to transition to running actual online classes, like some universities.
  • San Diego Unified, like other districts around the state, now has a plan in place to partner with its local PBS station, in this case KPBS, to broadcast educational programming. KPBS will disrupt its normal schedule to air educational programing from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. The programming will be broken up into age-appropriate blocks, starting with shows for the youngest students first. Perhaps even more useful for parents looking to keep their children engaged, KPBS has a whole suite of digital lessons and interactive media. Some of the online material relates to the TV broadcasts; others are stand alone lessons.
  • Select personnel, like principals and custodial staff, will be able to access school sites during the closure.
  • State reading and math tests, known as the Smarter Balanced assessments, will likely get put on hold, said Barrera. Schools on a traditional calendar take the tests in April and year-round schools take them later in the year. “How can you possibly do the tests on time?” Barrera said. The tests may even be cancelled altogether, he said, if state officials believe there is no way to give a fair test, given all the lost learning time.
  • Some special education students with Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, who receive medical or other services from the district may have that service interrupted.
  • All after-school events and services are also canceled.
  • The district will continue to communicate with parents using social media and its email listserv. Barrera said roughly 100,000 people are signed up to receive the district’s email communications. It’s a promising number, since San Diego Unified serves roughly 100,000 students.
  • Barrera said the district will try to make sure that substitute teachers who have their assignments canceled will still get paid. But he said it’s still under discussion.
  • For now, the district and state have no plans to add days to the school year to make up for the lost time.

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at or 619-693-6249.

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