Magnolia Elementary is one of several schools in the Cajon Valley Union School District to offer child care for families during the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

With San Diego schools going online in the fall, new private school-like options are becoming widely available.

The Jewish Community Center, for instance, plans to offer a full-day camp, where adults will supervise students in their online learning in small groups. Other programs – one calls itself Schoolnastics – will combine a supervised learning environment with athletics training.

These options will cost money and could leave students who can’t afford them behind.

But here’s another catch: As of right now, state regulations suggest those day camp-style options will not be allowed to open in the fall.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego’s public health officer, confirmed this, and said current guidelines do not allow camp-style child care locations to operate during normal school hours.

That means Schoolnastics and the Jewish Community Center, should they open in the fall, will be operating outside legal guidelines.

Wooten, however, also said that the governor’s office may provide new guidance on day camps soon. Gov. Gavin Newsom could waive the requirement that unlicensed day camps can only operate outside of normal school hours.

The governor’s office declined to comment on whether Newsom has any intention of granting a waiver.

If Newsom doesn’t issue a waiver, officials at the Jewish Community Center say they will likely open anyway.

“This isn’t just something we should try to do. This is something we have to do. The government has to work with us to be able to do this if school can’t be in session,”

Betzy Lynch, who runs the center, told me.

Lynch said there are multiple ways to interpret the state regulations.

The regulations say that day camps like the Jewish Community Center’s can be “operated only during hours other than normal school hours” or only when schools “are not normally in session.”

There is an argument to be made, Lynch said, that schools as we know them won’t be in session in the fall. Even if you believe schools are in session, it’s also unclear what their normal hours of operation would be, she said.

San Diego Unified officials have said that students will receive up to three hours per day of live online instruction. But for elementary students the amount could be much less – in the range of 30 minutes to one hour per day.

The Jewish Community Center will push to open even without a waiver and argues that school isn’t in session so the typical rules don’t apply, Lynch said. But if an official ruling comes down that the center can’t open, she’ll respect it.

The Jewish Community Center, like the YMCA and many similar organizations, typically run summer camps that are allowed based on the state’s guidelines. What is different now is that they want to keep those camps operating until schools reopen.

YMCA officials were initially interested in keeping their camps going into the fall, as well, said Greg Erickson, who runs a YMCA branch in La Mesa. But because of the state guidelines, the YMCA dropped those plans, he said.

Now the YMCA is pursuing a slightly different option.

A little background: Summer camps like the YMCA’s and the Jewish Community Center’s are, technically, unlicensed forms of child care. But the YMCA also runs some licensed child care operations on school campuses. Those programs – which operate on more than 80 campuses across the region – are licensed to operate before and after school.

YMCA officials are now asking for their licenses to be expanded to allow the programs on school campuses to operate all day. If state licensing authorities allow it, YMCA officials will still have one more hurdle. They’ll need to get school districts to give them the go-ahead to come back on to campus and run the programs.

But that creates an optics problem for school districts. While the YMCA does plan to offer some scholarships, many families will need to pay a fee of anywhere from $800 to $1,000 per month. That means, essentially, that school campuses will be open to families who can afford it and those lucky enough to get a scholarship – but not others.

YMCA officials are scrambling to estimate demand both for the fee-based programs and the scholarships. And much of that will depend on whether they have access to the school sites they’ve long used for after-school programs.

Erickson said he doesn’t know yet whether school districts will allow them to use the campuses.

Here’s another wrinkle: At least one school district in California also provided its own child care program. Cajon Valley Union, which serves 17,000 students in East County, stayed open all summer at roughly 30 percent capacity.

The district’s superintendent David Miyashiro wants to keep that program running through the fall. But since physical school campuses are required by state order to remain closed, Miyarshiro has to operate the program as “child care,” rather than a form of school. In order to keep his program running into the fall, he’ll also need a waiver from the governor.

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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