san diego school covid
San Diego Unified Board President Richard Berrera speaks during a press conference at Encanto Elementary. The district reopened classrooms to students whose families have opted to return to in-person instruction. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

I found this story in the U-T about restaurants and others going to “war” to find employees interesting. It has a lot of good reporting and anecdotes about the upward pressure on wages and the power prospective employees feel, buttressed by subsidies to traditional unemployment insurance that are flowing.

But it only briefly touched on one big issue: Kids are still not back in school full time! The economy will not be fully reopen until that happens. Full stop.

You may think that was settled, but it was not. In San Diego Unified, for example, many elementary students are back four days a week mostly full time, but after-school care is patchy at best. And while some employers are cool with a person not working a fifth day of work, others are not. The kids have to do something that day.

“A total of 55% of all public school students, including those in charter schools, were at home, in distance learning, as of April 30, according to an EdSource analysis of new data released by the state,” EdSource wrote this week.

While the prospects of Republicans ousting Gov. Gavin Newsom diminish with every step toward reopening and control of the virus he takes, schools remain the top complaints his critics go to when they justify the recall effort.

Child care, though, is still in shambles.

Summer camps appear to be ready to launch. San Diego Unified and other districts seem to be preparing some big summer programs. The YMCA reported it was also trying to hire people rapidly. It could be running into the same difficulties. And …

School will be back in the fall, they say: At the April 27 meeting of the San Diego Unified School Board of Education, trustee Richard Barrera wanted to clarify that this painful experience would not continue next fall.

“We will be back to a full-time, five-days-a-week full schedule in-person learning in August and the other thing we just need to clarify is and we will not be in a hybrid situation in August,” he said.

(I listened to that clip on repeat almost as many times as I played that Justin Bieber song about how lonely he is and the song about how the quarantine is over Manny Machado has as his walkup jam . (Careful: That video is slightly NSFW and the artists also do not acknowledge that schools aren’t open yet fully as they hit the calle hasta mañana.))

Barrera said they were planning a robust online program for students and teachers who could not return to classrooms but it would be completely separate.

“We will not in the fall have teachers who are needing to continue with this incredibly challenging process we have now where they’re teaching students in classroom and online at the same time,” he said.

They may not have a choice: People kind of forgot over the last year that it is illegal not to go to school. Students must go to school – as in actual, physical school, with some exceptions. In fact, how long teachers work inside those schools, how many days they work and attendance requirements are all part of state law.

That law was put aside last year as the pandemic set in. The state allowed districts to operate with distance learning as a substitute.

“We loosened the definition of education and we said you should do in-person learning to the best extent possible – that should be your default. But then we saw 80 to 90 percent of them not follow that. They could not figure out a way to come back,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, who represents San Francisco.

Not again, Ting told me.

“We want to make sure schools are open in the fall, so we’re going to take every precaution to do that. But … frankly if we don’t do anything in this year’s budget around distance learning, it means that things will go back to normal,” he said.

Next week, the governor will unveil his May revised budget and any rules like this about schools or allowing schools to stay closed. If they don’t change anything, then the waiver they passed will just no longer apply.

“I support this sunset completely and hope that if we vote on anything, it will be narrowly tailored to address only vulnerable children whose doctors believe they need virtual instruction,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez told me.

The virus could always come back: We’ve heard reassurances before about schools being open, including from Barrera last year about the fall. But then we watched the virus surge and school employees balk at going back. But now we have vaccines and low spread.

The best hope is that the virus stays at bay. Then the only remaining questions may be what further permanent changes the schools can make: more nurses and health support at schools and better ventilation.

And then masks: Will they be required to keep wearing them?

Hopefully this doesn’t look like an adorably naïve question in a few months as we do prepare to go back.

On Ventilation

If you’ve followed me at all this year, you know that I have been trying to amplify the message from San Diego scientists led by Kim Prather at UC San Diego that SARS-Cov-2 primarily spreads through the air and that should have major implications for how we respond to it. First, the plexiglass and “hygiene theater” of all the disinfectants is useless. Worse, the plexiglass could actually hinder what was important: clean air and ventilation.

Had we spent as much time and energy on air cleaning and ventilation as we did on hand-washing, we could have saved more lives.

The CDC has finally come around. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now states explicitly — in large, bold lettering — that airborne virus can be inhaled even when one is more than six feet away from an infected individual.”

Prather was happy the CDC finally acknowledged her point but says she’s also exhausted and finally going to take some time off.

Related: Science seems to be confirming her other point that plexiglass barriers could be doing more harm than good by inhibiting ventilation. Stop with the plexiglass!

Mayor Buckling on Library Cuts

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria delivers the State of the City Address from the San Ysidro Library on Jan. 13, 2021.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria delivers the State of the City Address from the San Ysidro Library on Jan. 13, 2021.

I do not know what Mayor Todd Gloria was thinking would happen when he proposed that the city’s libraries should be closed Sundays and Mondays – when they eventually open at all, which may not be until fall.

He was increasing the budget for other things, including police and homeless services, so his claim that it was to address the structural budget deficit was a bit incongruous.

And then later his staff explained some of the mechanics of what was really going on and why they wanted to cut the hourly workers who made it possible to keep the libraries open more.

And then later we learned that it wasn’t even clear those people existed anymore, so libraries couldn’t open.

But the backlash was intense. The largest union of city employees said it would fight the move. Council members seemed unimpressed. The San Diego Library Foundation – not a radical bunch – rallied supported to call in and submit comments.

“We are disappointed to see the budget for our Libraries reduced and concerned about the magnitude and impact of the proposed cuts on San Diegans. During a time when San Diegans rely deeply on Library resources to help them get back to the classroom and back to work, it would be irresponsible for the city to make a 10 percent cut in the Library budget as proposed,” the foundation said in a statement.

The mayor is going to back off.

“I am committed to working with the library director, Department of Finance and the City Council to offer a proposal in the May Revise to restore library hours. It is my intent to get back to a seven-day-a-week schedule across our library system over the next year,” Gloria wrote on Twitter.

San Diego District 6 Race – Only Open Seat – Is Forming

There is still only one Republican on the nine-member San Diego City Council: Chris Cate in District 6 – and we’re coming up on a year from when that seat will be open. Republican Jocelyn Lomahan is running, which should end speculation that restauranteur Noli Zosa, who ran in District 7, may try to move into District 6 and run there. It should, because Zosa endorsed Lomahan.

On the Democratic side: Joel Day, who managed the city’s response to COVID-19 among other management jobs and lectures to students at UC San Diego, jumped in the race earlier. But the district has been commonly seen as the best chance for Asian-American representation on the Council and a lot of Asian leaders have gravitated to support Kent Lee. One person to watch is Carol Kim, the political director of the Building Trades Council, whom Cate beat in 2014 to take the seat.

Kim probably has more influence now in some ways.

Tommy Hough is also running again.


  • Andy Keatts is gone this week and frankly the podcast was fine. Sara Libby and I had some good banter about John Cox’s stunt with the bear, in my opinion. We also talked with Jesse Marx about his fascinating story about facial recognition technology and the city’s bizarre response to a congressional inquiry about its use here.
  • Here’s a cool video of sharks chilling with surfers. Maybe they’re around us more than we think.
  • The Republican Party of San Diego has a new, young face.
  • First Maya Srikrishnan figured out that the city may not be able to hand out all the rental-assistance money it got, and now she has found they probably won’t.

Correction: While Kim has made positive comments about Kent Lee, she has not officially endorsed a candidate in the District 6 City Council race and reports that she will work to elect whomever her and her colleagues at the Building Trades Council decide to support. 

As I said, Andrew Keatts is out this week and so you should direct your outrage about anything in this splendid newsletter to me and me alone. Normally it would be right to assume anything that bothered you was something he wrote. But not this week. Don’t complain about the music video, I warned you. It’s a great song. Also a lot of people are mad at me this week, so I probably will be less worried about whatever you have to say so you should save your fire until Monday when I’ve recovered a bit. Anyway, you can send anything you want to 

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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