Vista High School does not have any reported COVID-19 cases but students and teachers are in quarantine because of other cases throughout the district / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The Vista Unified School District last week welcomed back nearly 10,000 students of all grades to school sites across town for in-person learning — one of the first public school districts in the county to fully reopen — following contentious opposition from the teachers union and support from some parents and other community members. Now six confirmed positive coronavirus cases at five school sites have forced more than 400 students and nearly two dozen staff into a 14-day quarantine.

Prior to opening for in-person instruction, the district had a safety plan in place calling for students and faculty to wear masks, space out desks, meet outside whenever possible, use air filters in classrooms and other safety precautions. Yet one student at Mission Vista High tested positive for coronavirus on the first day of school. The student and all other staff and students in contact with her were placed on a 14-day quarantine and told to continue distance learning from home.

After the announcement, the Vista Teachers Association reaffirmed its concerns about in-person learning and submitted a complaint to the district on Oct. 23. It argues that the district failed to adequately establish social distancing in classrooms, where students were much closer than six feet apart, and that the district doesn’t have an appropriate plan for contact tracing and testing when positive COVID-19 cases occur among staff or students, according to the Union-Tribune.

Since then, the district has confirmed five other positive cases — another at Mission Vista High School, one at Alta Vista High School, one at Roosevelt Middle School, one at Alamosa Park Elementary School and one at Mission Meadows Elementary School, NBC 7 reported.

On Wednesday morning, Mission Vista High School Principal Jeremy Walden sent a letter to students and families confirming the school’s two cases. He said the school will pivot to the virtual learning model they used during the month of September, starting Thursday, and he anticipates students and faculty will return to in-person leaning on Nov. 9. In the letter, he also told parents to make the necessary accommodations to have students remain at home.

Superintendent Matt Doyle told the Union-Tribune that Vista Unified has met the requirements set by state and county health officials, and the Centers for the Disease Control, but said the six-foot social distance protocol is a guideline, not a mandate.

The Vista Unified School District Board of Trustees met this week to review the district’s reopening plan and decided to add a metric to the in-person model that would cause a school to pivot to virtual learning in the event the school has two or more positive COVID-19 cases at the same time or if three middle or high schools report one positive case each.

The Vista Unified School Board of Trustees met on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Doyle said the new guidelines are based on criteria used by schools in New York.

“This decision was made based on the need to maintain a conservative approach to health and safety and to ensure there is sufficient staffing to support student learning on campus,” Walden wrote.

Now the district is confronting an additional challenge: It’s running out of substitute teachers. Doyle said at the board meeting Tuesday that there could be a teacher shortage in as little as two weeks since many of them are unable to work and fewer substitutes in the district’s pool are willing to take jobs for in-person learning.

Voice Poll: Terra Lawson-Remer Leading in D3

In a race that will determine partisan control of the County Board of Supervisors, a new Voice of San Diego poll reveals 42 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer or were leaning toward her. By contrast, 31 percent of likely voters said the same about incumbent Republican Kristin Gaspar, with another 27 percent of likely voters undecided. 

Next week, District 3 voters in wealthy communities like Encinitas, Del Mar and Solana Beach, and larger immigrant communities in Escondido and the community of Mira Mesa will decide whether the board will either be more conservative than it has been in recent decades or vastly more liberal. “Although its politics gravitate from Encinitas, District 3 is among the most diverse districts in the county, with sizable pockets of Vietnamese and Latino voters, both of whom favor Democrats. There are also considerable numbers of Chinese voters, who are overwhelmingly independent, and Filipinos, who are almost evenly split,” VOSD’s Jesse Marx reports.

In addition to District 3, The Voice Poll surveyed the San Diego mayor’s race, as well as residents’ trust in civic leadership, the direction of the region and more. (You can see the full crosstabs for District 3 here.) The poll was conducted by FM3 Research from Oct. 8 through Oct. 22.

Read more about The Voice Poll.

What We’re Working On

In Other News

  • Looking for more information on North County school board candidates? The Coast News surveyed candidates about why they’re running, where they stand on pre-Kindergarten, whether their respective districts should seek to add more charter schools to its portfolio of schools and more. (Coast News)
  • The San Dieguito Union School District school board voted to bring students back to school in a hybrid model one to two days a week by the second quarter, changing course from a previous decision to stick with a full distance learning curriculum. And two sisters who started the Instagram account @BlackinPUSD over the summer are working with Poway Unified to fix racism in the district’s schools. The district will create ethnic studies courses and enforce stricter consequences for racist offenses, Poway Associate Superintendent Carol Osborne told a Union-Tribune reporter. (Union-Tribune)
  • KPBS laid out how a “blue wave” could impact North County elections like the political majority of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, the leadership of several cities like Encinitas and Oceanside and what growth and development will look like in Oceanside and Poway.
  • Predictably, the Encinitas mayoral and City Council races are the most contentious in North County. Five political action groups raised and spent thousands to influence those races. The candidates talked about their priorities and experiences on the campaign trail at a virtual debate hosted by the Coast News. Many of them said they were surprised by the toxicity of Encinitas’ local elections. (Union-Tribune, Coast News)
  • Vista-based nonprofit Solutions for Change is ending drug testing and residential programs at some of its housing programs after a two-year dispute over housing-first requirements for government funding has ended. (Union-Tribune)
  • The North County Transit District will receive more than $9 million in funding to modernize its train and crossing control systems. (NBC 7)
  • And finally, it’s that time of year for my favorite pre-Election Day holiday: All Hallows’ Eve. The Union-Tribune laid out how celebrations are being redesigned for a social-distanced experience like ScreamZone at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and how one San Marcos man is shifting his 28-year tradition of elaborately decorating his home into a display of digital projections.

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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