Vista High School / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

While the county adjusts to further closures under purple tier state restrictions, North County school leaders are grappling with whether to continue in-person learning or force students back to learning through a screen for the remainder of the fall semester. Regionally, some districts like Poway Unified are looking ahead and slowing down reopening plans for the second semester, the Union-Tribune reported.

Vista Unified School District announced Tuesday it will be shifting all middle schools and high schools to virtual instruction beginning Nov. 30 until the end of the semester. Elementary schools will continue in-person learning.

The district saw several positive cases shortly after it welcomed back students for in-person learning last month. But the school board isn’t closing schools because of those cases, according to a letter from the district. Rather, the decision is being fueled by a lack of teachers and substitute teachers able to teach in-person classes and concerns about the escalation of coronavirus cases in Vista and regionwide.

“While Vista Unified has seen no evidence of the virus spreading within the school environment after 26 days of instruction in the Vista Classic learning model, the impact of the virus within our community is causing staffing challenges for teachers, instructional assistants, custodians, and other employees. Although our pivoting criteria has been effective in combating any spread of the virus on secondary campuses, the frequency of pivoting schools has increased,” the letter reads. “The increased frequency of pivoting is disruptive to students, parents, and staff.”

In October, the Vista Teachers Association reaffirmed its concerns about in-person learning and submitted a complaint to the district. It argued 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.

At its Dec. 15 meeting, the school board will review feedback and recommendations from the superintendent’s Council for Innovative Learning, discuss adjustments to its virtual and in-person learning instruction models for the next semester and discuss new regulations for quarantining students, staff and classrooms based on feedback from the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency.

Meanwhile, small groups of students at Escondido Union High School District, including English-learners and others who need special education and extra support, are participating in learning pods on campus with teachers and substitutes, while others continue to learn online. A Union-Tribune reporter illuminated one Escondido high school senior’s experience with virtual learning and how other families in San Diego are coping with distance learning.

Olga West, a spokeswoman for the district, said the district will continue operating through those small groups of students and will move in a “slow and stringent approach” when it begins its second semester in January.

Palomar Community College Has a New Board

The Palomar Community College District Board of Trustees has been under fire from staff, faculty and the school community for the district’s financial distress, dissatisfaction with former President Joi Lin Blake and more.

Now, in the district’s latest string of changes at the leadership level, there will soon be three new school board members.

North County voters picked Christian Garcia to replace incumbent Nina Deerfield for District 2 and Brian Olson to represent District 4. Roberto Rodriguez could take District 3 if the votes hold. He’s leading by one point over his opponent, David Vincent.

Whoever wins will be placed under a microscope by the school community.

The candidates talked to local media about their plans to resolve the district’s current fiscal dilemmas and strengthen relationships with faculty, staff and the school community among other priorities in October.

On school finances, Garcia, a North County high school teacher who lives in Escondido, told The Telescope, the school’s newspaper, that the board needs to facilitate and give different options for retirement plans.

“What we’re looking for are better ways to budget and offer more opportunities for people to bid for contracts. We need to make sure that there is competition when it comes to competing for different contracts,” Garcia told the reporter.

Rodriguez, a teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District, told The Telescope that he thinks it’s critical for the district to come up with more revenue and to get creative with its budget since state budgets will be lean in the next two years due to economic impacts of the pandemic. He also said he’s most focused on the education of students.

“That’s our mandate. That’s what we should be doing. I know some people want to do cuts right away and cut budgets and cut salaries and cut, cut,” he told the reporter. “If those are necessary, I’m sure they’ll get negotiated at the bargaining table with the different groups on campus, but I truly believe that we’re going to have to get creative over the next couple of years in terms of how we deal with the budgets that are coming.”

His opponent, Vincent, an adjunct professor at San Diego State University, told The Telescope “that it’s important to develop a business strategy and operational plan that will help in the long run financially.”

And on improving relationships with the school community, Olson, a businessman and veteran’s advocate, told a reporter from the Pomerado News that his past experience as an elected member of another college board would inform the college’s executive leadership transition and financial setbacks. He said elected board members “need to lead in a manner consistent with the policy values and vision of the district to best support our students, staff and faculty.”

I’ll be following the school board’s transition and talking to the Palomar community about its expectations for the new board members in the coming weeks.

What We’re Working On

  • The Sheriff’s Department does not require deputies to activate their body cameras, unlike other local agencies, VOSD contributor Kelly Davis reported.
  • The San Diego County Board of Supervisors opted out of SB 1045 and SB 40, two laws that allow three California counties to implement pilot programs expanding court-ordered conservatorships, VOSD intern Kara Grant reported.
  • On Nov. 13, I went on KPBS’s Roundtable to talk about women politicians and officeholders in San Diego County who have received threats and harassment through social media, text messages and phone calls.

In Other News

  • The Oceanside city manager announced she will widen recruitment efforts in the city’s search for a new police chief to external candidates following community concern about her previous decision to hire internally. (Union-Tribune)
  • The Encinitas city planning commission will debate a proposed senior living and low-income housing project near San Elijo lagoon at its Dec. 3 meeting after commissioners previously appeared to be divided over development plans. (Union-Tribune)
  • Carlsbad is drafting an ordinance that could protect city hotel workers who have been furloughed or laid off during the coronavirus pandemic so they are able to return to their jobs when business resumes. San Diego passed a similar measure in September. (Union-Tribune)
  • And finally, the Union-Tribune outlined a North County guide to Thanksgiving meals offered for those in need.

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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