san diego school covid
Students walk into Encanto Elementary School on San Diego Unified’s first day back to in-person instruction. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Students walk into Encanto Elementary School on San Diego Unified’s first day back to in-person instruction. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

To prevent widespread quarantines at schools if kids or teachers come down with COVID-19 — or come in contact with someone who has — the San Diego Unified School District asked parents to sign off on letting kids be tested.

Then, if the school finds a case, rather than sending home every student who was near the person who tested positive, they can use the testing information to determine who is safe. They’re managing outbreaks with a scalpel, instead of a machete.

But the program is voluntary, and the schools where testing is widespread also happen to be those with few low-income students, and vice versa. And that means poorer areas could see more kids sent home to isolate. 

We know this, because Will Huntsberry cross-referenced the district’s publicly available testing data with the information we already had on the percent of students in each school who receive free or reduced lunch, a common proxy for poverty within schools.

Shorter version: The district’s efforts to minimize disruption in schools from COVID-19 cases are prevalent in wealthy schools and not in lower income schools; lower income schools, then, are more susceptible to forcing more kids not to go to school, if someone in the building catches the virus.

Fortunately, for now, there have been very few cases. 

Click here to read Huntsberry’s full story.

Not unrelated: The district may require that all students over the age of 12 be vaccinated from the coronavirus to attend in-person classes. Vaccines are required for other contagions. The discussion will be Tuesday, Sept. 28.

Feds Settle on Sweetwater Fraud Case

Back in 2018, Huntsberry also picked up on something no one else had yet: the Sweetwater Union High School District realized suddenly it had a $30 million hole in its budget. Huntsberry himself soon realized that the shortfall was neither sudden nor recently discovered.

Rather, district officials had been aware that a decision to give a 3.75 percent salary increase to employees would imperil the budget, and went ahead and did it anyway. To do so, an official signed off on documents that obscured the district’s budget situation.

Now, the Securities and Exchange Commission — which is on the case because the district at the same time sold $28 million in bonds to investors, who were misled by the subterfuge — has settled the matter with that official, and the district itself.

The district’s former CFO agreed to pay $28,000 in fines and never again participate in security offerings. The district consented to an order that it violated two sections of the Securities Act.

Click here for Huntsberry’s story on the settlement, and for more background on the whole scandal.

Answering Readers’ Questions

Veronica from San Diego asked: What’s the status on San Diego being a zero-waste city? 

First, a brief explanation of what zero waste means to the city of San Diego. It means either preventing waste or reusing, recycling or composting it, according to their Zero Waste Plan. The city’s target is to divert 75 percent of all trash by one of these methods by 2020; then 90 percent by 2035 with an ultimate goal of zero waste by 2040. 

The city acknowledges, though, that zero waste probably doesn’t mean we’re going to have absolutely no waste disposal. “Think of it as a continual improvement process with as little waste disposal as possible,” wrote Alma Rife, a spokesperson for the city, in an email. 

The city says it reached a waste diversion rate of 67 percent in 2019, but it doesn’t have numbers for 2020 at this time (probably because of the pandemic). 

This is a good reminder for MacKenzie Elmer, our environment reporter, to dig deeper into this whole zero waste policy goal a little further. So, thanks, reader.

Have a question for our reporters to dig into? Share it here.

Photo of the Week

Carl DeMaio speaks at a Recall Newsom event in Escondido on Sept. 14, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

From Adriana Heldiz: As early results of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall election rolled in Tuesday night, Carl DeMaio gazed at vote totals being projected on a screen at the Escondido Masonic Center. The former San Diego councilman turned talk radio host claimed most of the early votes were mail-in ballots, saying “our people” were still waiting in long lines at polling places to vote against Newsom.

His people? The room was full of mostly older White people — like bingo night at the community center. I was the only one wearing a mask.

Less than 30 minutes after leaving the stage, DeMaio returned to give his too-close-to-call race speech. On Facebook, Thursday, DeMaio said it would be seen as a setback for Newsom. 

In 2018 Gavin Newsom won the Governorship by 62-38%. Mark my words: when all the votes are counted, we believe the Recall will show Newsom has LOST a chunk of that margin!”

(As of Thursday afternoon, 64 percent of voters had chosen to keep Newsom in office.

“No matter what the outcome of the election, we have shown that this grassroots movement is only going to grow,” he said.

The story of how DeMaio got here is one that my buddy Andrew Keatts dove into a couple months ago. You can check it out here. After finishing up his speech, a group of DeMaio’s supporters surprised him with what looked like a cake from Costco. It was his birthday. DeMaio is a Virgo. 

In Other News

This Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts, Adriana Heldiz and MacKenzie Elmer, and edited by Scott Lewis and Megan Wood.

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