escondido schools covid
Students walk to class at Bear Valley Middle School. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Class is back in session for most students in San Diego — and, for many, it’s not going well. 

The rapid rise in coronavirus cases across the region has left schools scrambling to find substitutes, forced districts to cut back on extracurricular activities and prompted notices of possible disruptions in school transportation. 

Late Thursday, San Diego Unified leaders sent parents an email with a clear message: The impact of staff shortages will only get worse in the coming weeks.  

“For the next month, we have authorized principals to use other certificated staff to supervise students when teachers and substitutes are unavailable … Principals are taking other measures, as well, including moving students outdoors during good weather and into large indoor spaces,” read the email. 

Officials said no one should anticipate a district-wide return to online learning. Instead, San Diego Unified will consult with the county on a threshold for when individual schools may need to be closed. 

“This is not the return to normal that many of us were hoping for at the start of the school year, but we have effective planning in place, a strong team to implement those plans, and the full support of our beloved community,” officials wrote. 

With so much uncertainty around schools, we asked parents to share their experience over the past few weeks and what they wish their district would explain better. Here are a few of their responses, edited for clarity.

Katie Matchett, whose children attend Sessions Elementary in Pacific Beach, said back to school guidance was difficult to interpret when one of her kids tested positive. 

“The official communication from school was ‘call for instructions if someone tests positive’— I spent four hours trying to get through … When I was eventually able to contact the school nurse via email, I was told it was fine for my healthy kid to go to school. But our neighbors down the street, with the exact same scenario, were told to keep their healthy child home for nearly 3 weeks. I’m seeing this play out with other families and schools as well, with conflicting guidance from schools adding to the stress and confusion of an already difficult situation.” 

Mark Lane, whose kids attend Vernon Elementary and Lemon Grove Academy Middle School, estimated this week that both schools had an absentee rate of about 40 percent, with many teachers and staff out sick. 

“Why are we not on a few weeks of remote learning? Why are we exposing the teachers, staff and kids?” he asked. 

Mary, a parent at High Tech High in Clairemont Mesa, reiterated that attendance is low. 

“(On the) first day back from Christmas break, 20 percent of students did not come back. Numbers have slowly been growing since then,” she said, adding that she would like a guarantee from the district that schools will remain open. 

On a more positive note, Lisa Deaton, whose children attend Waldorf School of San Diego told us she thinks the school has done a good job handling COVID because classes there have been held outdoors since fall 2020. 

“I feel safe with my children attending school,” she said. “Classes are small in size and masks are mandatory. Testing is available to all students, staff and family every week. So, while things have not been normal, we have been able to be in person longer than other schools in San Diego.” 

Share your back-to-school experience with us here

The Week’s Top News 

  • Mayor Todd Gloria laid out big priorities this week during his State of the City address. He urged the city to tackle tough challenges like homelessness and crumbling city infrastructure as it emerges from the pandemic.  
  • Chula Vista leaders are ready to declare a state of emergency hoping it will help end the standoff between sanitation workers and Republic Services. But as Jesse Marx explained this week, the city has little leverage. The city’s contract with Republic Services stipulates that the company isn’t at fault for any “uncontrollable circumstance,” which includes a strike. 
  • In other South Bay news, we learned that Chula Vista Councilman John McCann filed a complaint accusing Mayor Mary Casillas Salas of discrimination and harassment because she called him a “gringo.” The city spent $16K to settle the dispute, with an outside attorney concluding it didn’t rise to the level of harassment or discrimination. 

Read These Comments 

On San Diego Unified’s decision to shut down extracurricular and off-season sports …  

“Having less activity is absolutely the wrong thing to do … As a PE teacher, less activity only leads to more problems, but the geniuses in the district have little, or no clue, to this. They are under the impression that hiding in a hole, like a groundhog, will save anyone from anything. Increased activity equals increased oxygen capacity, heart function and overall wellness.” – kkaponis 

“To the best of my knowledge no one has suggested kids stop exercising, have they? Perhaps the lesson here is, listen up grownups, if kids don’t have them already, they learn not only independent exercise discipline and skills but the seemingly forgotten principle that the health of the greater community is more important than adult-programmed extracurricular game time?” – Jerry Hall  

On Chula Vista’s trash strike … 

“It just seems that Republic Services has little concern for the public they serve, and the contract with the City of Chula Vista is manipulative in that it allows the corporation to keep revenues flowing even during a labor dispute.” – Richard Barry 

On Chula Vista spending $16K to investigate the mayor’s use of “gringo” … 

“Such a shame that so much money was wasted on this. Sounds like the conclusion that was reached is pretty much right, thankfully, but still. In my opinion if “gringo” is used with a disparaging tone or in a negative context it’s not appropriate for the workplace, but it’s still definitely not discrimination or worthy of investigation. As others have commented, this is definitely white fragility in action.” – Becky Winkler 

Thanks for reading. In case you missed it, the VOSD text group is growing. Chat with me about our latest stories and share feedback directly with our team by texting “VOSD” to (619) 374-5872 or sign up here.

Megan is Voice of San Diego’s director of marketing. She is responsible for producing and overseeing strategies that extend the reach of the organization....

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