Rancho Santa Fe School District’s reopening waiver approved by local authorities

A comprehensive prevention plan is required for the waiver process.
A comprehensive prevention plan is required to for the waiver process.

San Diego County has approved Rancho Santa Fe School District’s waiver to reopen in-person school—the application has now been forwarded to the state for approval. According to Superintendent Donna Tripi the state is expected to respond to the waiver by Aug. 20.

As the waiver is only for elementary grades K-6 and sixth grade is a part of middle school at R. Roger Rowe, the board voted Aug. 18 to bring back K-5 students on time on Aug. 24 in accordance with the waiver and delay bringing back sixth grade until further board action. The vote was 4-1 with Jee Manghani opposed.

So far San Diego County has received 80 waiver applications from schools. Those on the list include local private elementary schools Del Mar Pines, Diegueno Country School, Horizon Prep, The Nativity School, San Diego Jewish Academy, Santa Fe Christian, La Jolla Country Day, Francis Parker and The Bishop’s School.

The Rancho Santa Fe and Del Mar Union School District were the only public schools that have filed for the waiver.

The county released its waiver process on Aug. 7 and Tripi applied on Aug. 10, with unanimous support from the school board. After the format was revised, she resubmitted on Aug. 11. As required by the waiver process, Tripi said the district consulted with teachers and received input from parents through a superintendent forum.

Over the last week, the board received about 30 emails from teachers requesting the flexibility to opt to work from home and expressing concerns about returning to campus.

“As a board member, my commitment is to the safety of our children and staff and to providing the highest quality educational experience to our students,” board member Sarah Neal said. “The leadership of the district is unanimous in support of a safe environment for in-person instruction… Our district is very unique and is fortunate to have the resources and a clear plan which meets the CDC guidelines.”

The district’s 20-page, comprehensive COVID-19 prevention plan for reopening was approved by the board in a 4-1 vote on Aug. 6 with Tyler Seltzer opposed.

In some areas, the district is going “over and above” what is required for reopening. While not required, the school will be doing temperature checks of students, and all students, including kindergarten through second graders, will be required to wear facial coverings. Seltzer said he would prefer the district encourage rather than require the younger students to wear facial coverings, in alignment with the state’s reopening guidelines.

Tripi said the district will also go over and above in terms of contact tracing and on Aug. 13, the board approved a $15,000 agreement with UC San Diego Health to provide employee testing.

During public comment, Rowe teachers expressed their concerns about training on distance learning, communication between the district and staff, and the current district climate.

Teacher Lindsey Conley said in her 17 years at the school, she has never witnessed more “divisiveness and disrepair.” She referenced teachers being disparaged by parents on social media, in board meetings or other public arenas regarding their concerns about the return to school.

“If the collective values and beliefs of our community—in essence our culture—is sending the message to teachers that their concerns are minimized, their fears are unwarranted, their preparedness is not a priority…and if there is a lack of trust in the adult relationships, how does that play out for our students?” Conley asked.

For the sake of having a positive and productive environment for students, Conley asked that the district make an effort to repair the school culture as the school year begins: “It cannot be business as usual…Teachers need to feel safe, supported and valued.”

There are 99 new students this year, including 12 in the middle school, bringing the school to a total enrollment of 563, slightly more than they had predicted. Thirty-three students left the school due to a move or deciding to do something different for the school year, Tripi said.

For parents who feel uncomfortable sending children back to school, the district will offer the choice of the distance learning model, in which students at home would follow a typical school day remotely with an in-school classroom.

A district survey conducted July 31-Aug. 4 showed that 71% of the 390 respondents said they would send their children back to school, 18% said no and 11% were unsure. The survey also questioned whether parents would disenroll students if Rowe could not physically open—11% said yes, 25% were undecided.

If the waiver is not granted, all Rowe students would begin the school year with distance learning. Different from what was offered in the spring, there will be a structured weekly schedule including live interactive learning from 8:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. with asynchronous learning and office hours in the afternoon.

According to the governor’s order, schools can only physically open for in-person education when the county has been off the state’s monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. San Diego County was removed from the watch list on Aug. 19 and if case numbers remain low, all schools in the county could be allowed to reopen, including Rowe Middle School and schools in the Solana Beach School District.

The San Dieguito Union High School District has decided it will remain in the distance learning model for all students through the first quarter of the new school year. When the district is allowed to bring students on campus, the district will prioritize special education students, English language learners, high-risk students and students with inadequate learning environments first and then all other students.