Parents protested outside of San Diego Unified’s headquarters to demand that district officials offer in-person classes for students. / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran
Parents protested outside of San Diego Unified’s headquarters to demand that district officials offer in-person classes for students. / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

San Diego Unified leaders now say they have a date for when some students may start slowly returning to school: Oct. 13.

District leaders initially committed to bringing some of the district’s most vulnerable students back to campus by late September, but missed that date. Special education students, homeless students and those who have been unreachable by their teachers will be among the first set of students who can return.

Students who have experienced “learning loss” will also be among those expected to return, said board vice president Richard Barrera.

Teachers might identify students who are falling behind in a number of various ways. One will be to see where they stood on their last report card before the pandemic began.

Schools across the district are expected to gather teams who will identify students they think should return for in-person services.

Many special education students, for instance, have fallen behind in taking assessments used to evaluate their conditions. Students requiring assessments will likely be among the first who are invited back to campus.

What services look like for each student could vary greatly. Some might only return to take an assessment. Others should return for as much instruction as they need to get back on track, said Barrera.

“I think some portion of that group of students will be able to come back all day, every day,” he said.

Many experts have cautioned that online learning could exacerbate the already wide achievement gap that permeates public education. San Diego Unified’s plan, which brings back the district’s most vulnerable students first, is designed to mitigate that effect.

Parents should start to be notified during the second week of October whether their child will be invited back for in-person instruction, according to a document obtained by Voice of San Diego that was shared with one school.

During phase one, as district leaders have called it, only students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade will be allowed to return. Students in third grade and lower will be allowed to congregate in groups no larger than six. Students in fourth and fifth grade may meet in groups with up to eight students.

Phase two of the district’s reopening will be similar but will include middle and high school students. It also will include all elementary students, said Barrera. It might, however, mean that all elementary students come back one or two days per week, rather than every day.

Barrera said phase two might begin as soon as November. But then again, he cautioned, if phase one doesn’t go well, phase two could be much further off.

Phase one will involve “testing out all the mitigation factors we’re gonna have in place and making sure it works well – everything from PPE to ventilation to temperature check,” he said.

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

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