Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

When Cardiff School District Superintendent Jill Vinson suggested on May 8 the district may implement a hybrid-learning model – where students attend school for part of the week and continue distance learning for the other part – in an email to parents and staff last week, Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear fired back and said schools “need to do better than propose that kids stay home several days a week next year to do ‘distance learning.’”

Blakespear, who has two children in Cardiff schools, told Voice of San Diego she thinks public schools should be reopening along with the rest of the economy.

“Let’s start with ‘How can we reopen?’ instead of ‘How can we stay closed part of the time?’ Schools need to meet the moment,” she said. “Hybrid learning is a lose-lose situation. Kids should every day be going to a school campus.”

School leaders like Vinson are grappling with pressure from elected leaders like Blakespear and some families who are pushing for school to return in the fall while balancing county public health mandates about large gatherings indoors, among other concerns.

In an effort to reduce student capacity in school classrooms and meet social distancing guidelines and other health protocols, the San Diego County Office of Education suggested school officials consider a flexible, hybrid-learning model where students learn remotely part of the week and attend classes on campus part of the week.

In a notice updated on April 28, the County Office of Education recommended a few options for school districts and charter schools to consider when developing plans to reopen classrooms, such as blending classroom and distance learning as an alternative to school closures:

  • Schools limit the number of students on campus to half of normal size by assigning one group of students to come to school on Monday and Wednesday and the other half on Tuesday and Thursday. Teachers would provide each group with two days of direct instruction and support and three days of assignments to complete at home each week.
  • Schools limit the number of students to 20 percent where all classes are divided into five equal groups – one for each day of the week – and teachers will provide each group with one day of direct instruction and support and four days of assignments to complete at home and using Fridays for teachers to provide individual or small-group support by appointment or to prepare packets for the next week.
  • For districts and charter schools that can provide universal internet access, pair either option with a classroom webcast to provide direct instruction five days a week.

Music Watson, chief of staff at the County Office of Education, said Wednesday the safety of students and staff will be key to how school districts and charter schools operate in the fall. She said school operations will depend on what the county public health order allows in August regarding large group gatherings, but the County Office of Education is telling schools to prepare sooner than later.

“If we’re still in a spot where we still can’t have large gatherings … we need to give different models for schools and families to contemplate. Some families may find they really liked distance learning so we’re recommending districts and charter schools have a distance learning option because it may be the option some families want,” she said.

She said if the public order in fall doesn’t allow large groups gatherings in the county, schools may need to break up into the 20 percent or 50 percent capacity options. She said that will be for individual school districts to decide and will depend on sizing of campuses, staffing levels and capacities.

“If you had a campus that’s sizable and a relatively small enrollment, you might not have to break up classes. But for some schools that might not be possible. We tell schools don’t wait until we get clearance to reopen; start thinking now.”

On Wednesday, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced the state will not mandate a reopening date and local school districts will decide when they will welcome students back to physical classrooms as long as teachers and students all have personal protective equipment. Thurmond said it’s likely some districts statewide will offer what the San Diego education officials are proposing: a combination of in-person and distance learning if they can fund it.

Cardiff is one of the first school districts in the county to publicly propose the learning model for the upcoming school year, yet it’s still unclear how schools in Cardiff and others throughout the county will operate in fall. District officials are considering the County Office of Education’s suggestions, coordinating with local school districts and considering input from parents and staff about how to operate next school year, Vinson wrote in an email.

Vinson wrote to Blakespear on May 9 that the district realizes sending students to school for part of the week may not be comfortable for all families.

“We too are anxious to bring our students and staff members back to school and will do so when we have properly addressed all of the many health, safety and logistical issues that guide the running of a school system,” she wrote. “The entire educational community is grappling with the complexities that it will take to resume school during a public health crisis.”

Cardiff School District officials sent a notice and survey to parents and staff on Monday to gather information about the number of students to plan for as it plans for a return to school for students on Aug. 25.  The notice says teacher and parent input, health and safety protocols, space availability, budgetary considerations, state educational and instructional requirements and public health mandates will all play a role in the district’s final decision-making.

“As we move forward, we will consider all of the variables and plan for a scenario that can flexibly adapt to accommodate changing public health directives. A hybrid model with classroom-based instruction part of the week and distance learning part of the week is a possibility,” the email reads.

Watson said she applauds the district for being proactive and engaging the community by trying to figure out the school community’s best interest rather than making an abrupt decision in August. That will help families be  aware of what plans are in consideration.

“It’s not easy, and schools are in the spot of balancing the mission of educating children and the other part of our mission keeping them and our staff safe,” Watson said. “If that means we can’t have groups of students together, then we have to consider what’s best.”

Kayla Jiminez was a staff writer for Voice of San Diego. She covered about communities, politics and regional issues in North County as well as school...

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