Desks at Lafayette Elementary School are adorned with plexiglass to protect students from the spread of coronavirus as San Diego Unified begins phase one of its reopening plan at elementary schools. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Enrollment in San Diego Unified – and many other school districts – has declined more than expected during the pandemic. 

But exactly what’s driving the decline has been unclear. New data, obtained by a local parent group advocating for San Diego Unified to do more in-person learning, sheds new light on the drop, writes Will Huntsberry in The Learning Curve

Some affluent parents have been leaving San Diego Unified in order to attend private schools that provide in-person classes, as we’ve previously reported. But the data shows that vulnerable students also seem to be leaving San Diego Unified at increased rates. 

Vulnerable students likely aren’t opting out, but rather have been forced to move due to instability caused by the pandemic. 

Among the other highlights:

High school enrollment hasn’t changed much at all. It’s only down by less than half of a percent. 

Elementary and middle school enrollment is down by five percent. That means enrollment isn’t only concentrated in kindergarten, as some officials have previously suggested.

The average decline in enrollment is higher among the district’s wealthiest schools. But the biggest enrollment drops actually happened at the district’s alternative schools – which tend to serve some of the district’s most vulnerable students. 

Across the state: We have no idea what’s happening. Politico’s Mackenzie Mays reports that the state is not tracking the spread of the virus in schools.

“The state is also not tracking which schools are open and closed or what type of instruction model they’re using in the pandemic — data that education officials say could help devise a plan about what works and what doesn’t,” she wrote.

Oh, and We’re Getting Another Stay-at-Home Order

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he had broken the state into five different regions, and if any of the five regions show less than 15 percent capacity for ICU patients, we have to go into a new stay-at-home order that would shut down restaurants operating with outdoor dining, hair salons and even playgrounds. 

San Diego is Southern California: Sometimes when people refer to Southern California they don’t mean San Diego. Unfortunately, this time they do. We’re in the Southern California region with Imperial County and Orange County and Los Angeles and all the way up to Mono County. 

The governor said we’re just days away from crossing the threshold. We have about 21 percent of our ICU capacity remaining. With cases soaring, and the effects of the Thanksgiving holiday only starting to be felt, we will likely see the restrictions come into place soon. 

San Diego County reported Thursday that we had about 23 percent of our ICU capacity available. But our hospitalizations have almost tripled in the last month. 

The governor encouraged us all to recreate outside and even go skiing. So it’s stay at home, but also, don’t. And also don’t travel. So maybe only the ski resort people should ski. 

Short-Term Vacation Rental Compromise: Council, Maybe?

A proposal to regulate short-term vacation rentals that strikes a midpoint between community groups that would like to largely abolish the practice, and rental operators and some of the tech firms whose platforms facilitate it, is now one step from becoming the law.

The city’s Planning Commission, an appointed body that advises the City Council on land-use and development-related issues, voted Thursday to approve the compromise proposal, which was struck by Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell and now needs only Council approval.

“San Diegans have been ready for a plan that puts housing stock back on the market, provides licensing, regulation and enforcement in the short term vacation rental space,” Campbell said in a press release.

Campbell unveiled the proposal in July, after negotiating it with Expedia and the local hotel union UNITE HERE. Save San Diego Neighborhoods, an anti-vacation rental community group, and Airbnb both oppose the deal, which puts a citywide cap on whole-home rentals, requires rentals to pay for a permit so the city can enforce fines against nuisance rentals, and imposes a two-night minimum stay.

This isn’t the first time the city appeared close to resolving a policy issue that’s vexed it for years. In 2016, a much stricter proposal reached the Council, but failed to win majority approval. That attempt went to the Planning Commission, which kicked it back to city staff to fix some issues, but never came back to the Planning Commission for a vote.

Two years later, in 2018, the City Council passed another measure that was also stricter than the Campbell proposal, before Airbnb and other operators collected enough signatures to put the regulations to a citywide vote. The Council instead repealed its own ordinance, leaving the status quo in place.

But maybe it’ll go through this time! An added wrinkle: Campbell is currently running for Council president, against Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, and the rest of the Council will decide who to put in charge next week. If she wins, Campbell would decide when to put the compromise she negotiated up for a vote.

In Other News

  • A UCSD researcher was part of a team that analyzed cell phone location data and found that people were more likely to adhere to the public health guidelines when their households received stimulus funds, the university announced. 
  • In an op-ed, the secretary of the Point Loma/OB Democratic Club lays out why the group supports Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe’s bid to become Council president.
  • Mayor-elect Todd Gloria has pledged to keep the Convention Center open as a homeless shelter beyond the end of the year, when it’s currently set to run out of funding to operate as such. Gloria didn’t tell the Union-Tribune which funding source would keep the center open, but he had said on Twitter a day earlier that a U-T story discussing the pending closure was “incorrect.” But 400 of the 900 people currently living at the Convention Center are set next week to begin moving into two hotels the city purchased as longer-term housing options for homeless residents.
  • Gloria also named more members to his team. And he announced that the best way to get through all this is to recognize that we’re all in it together. 
  • The crew of the San Diego-based USS Rushmore said they were forced to return to the ship Saturday, after being told they had the holiday weekend off, and are now sequestered on board for 28 days, until they leave for seven days at sea at the end of the month. Members of the 400-person crew told the Union-Tribune’s Andrew Dyer that the 28-day quarantine during the holidays, intended to guard against the spread of the coronavirus, has created a crisis of morale on the ship.

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