Rowe elementary school reopens for in-person school on Aug. 24

A physically-distanced classroom at R. Roger Rowe.

Both the county and state have approved Rancho Santa Fe School District’s school reopening waiver.


R. Roger Rowe was the first public school in the county to welcome students back for in-person instruction on Monday, Aug. 24. School looks a lot different this year with face coverings required for all students and staff, physical distancing and lots of handwashing but Rancho Santa Fe School District Board President Scott Kahn was happy that the district could offer some sense of normalcy for elementary school students.

“To all the parents who have incoming kindergartners, revel in the normality of their first day of kindergarten. I think it’s a really special moment that only happens once and we’re really proud to be able to make that a possibility at the school,” Kahn said at a special board meeting on Aug. 21.

Both the county and state approved the district’s school reopening waiver—just 27 of the 95 schools and school districts that have applied for the waiver have been approved. Private schools that have had their waivers granted include Santa Fe Christian, Francis Parker, The Bishop’s School and La Jolla Country Day.

Rancho Santa Fe’s waiver was approved up to the sixth grade, however, as the sixth grade is a part of the middle school at Rowe, the school board determined that the sixth grade will begin the year in distance learning in an effort to keep the entire middle school on the same schedule.

San Diego County came off the watchlist on Aug. 18, triggering the 14-day countdown to when all county schools can physically reopen. Sept. 1 is the soonest possible date for all students in grades 6-8 at Rowe to come back. If the county returns to the watchlist at any point over the 14-day waiting period, the board may decide to bring sixth grade back under the waiver provisions.

In a message to families last week, Superintendent Donna Tripi said she was grateful for the district’s administration team and their work over the summer to plan for every scenario and to make sure that “every last inch” of the school is as safe as it can be. She also acknowledged the district’s Health and Hygiene Committee, whose expertise helped develop the district’s COVID-19 Prevention Plan that meets and, in some cases, exceeds the relevant guidance.

“The work has just begun,” Tripi said. “We’re all in this together and need to work as a team -- parents, teachers, and students -- to ensure that protocols are followed at school and at home for the safety of all.”

With school back in session, Rowe will aim to meet all of the requirements in the four big areas of safety protocols: physical distancing, facial coverings, screening and sanitation.

All students and staff will be required to wear facial coverings on campus all day except when they are eating lunch or a snack. Class sizes will not exceed the number of students who can occupy a classroom with the physical distancing guideline of six feet between desks, which is about 16 to 18 students a class. There is 6 feet of distance between all teachers and their students, and teachers will also be encouraged to use outdoor space throughout the school day when practical.

Staff, students and parents will be trained on proper hand hygiene, including handwashing protocols. Hand sanitizer will be placed outside of each classroom for students to use as they exit and enter and exit the room.

During the day, students will be kept in stable cohorts that will remain together for all classes, lunch and recess. During recess there will be designated zones for cohorts to play, while physical distancing with face coverings. Restrooms have been designated by grade level and have occupancy requirements.

As adult to adult transmission is the district’s greatest concern, no adults will be allowed on campus for any reason. Parents are asked to cooperate with school protocols by screening children at home with temperature checks and screening questions, as well as the newly developed rules for arrival and dismissal.

“Certainly there is no perfect,” acknowledged board member Sarah Neal, but she said she believes that the district has done as good as possible job with its COVID-19 Prevention Plan. She encouraged everyone to work together and follow protocols so they could continue in-person school: “This is what kids need and we can do this.”

In response to COVID-19, Senate Bill 98 requires all school districts to provide a distance learning option for all students whose families do not feel comfortable having their children attend in-person school. The district is required to provide daily live interaction, meet instructional minute requirements, and provide assessment and grading just as they do for in-person instruction. Attendance is required.

As of July, it was reported that 50 of the school’s 563 students had opted for the distance learning model versus an in-person return to school. 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 number of students who began the year in distance learning was not provided by press time.

Rowe’s distance learning program is centered around having students at home following along remotely with an in-school classroom throughout the day on Zoom. The district purchased Swivl devices, a video technology that teachers can use in the classroom that makes it easy to record and share live streaming lessons as well as give remote students the opportunity to interact with in-class peers. Unfortunately, the devices have not yet arrived.

In a message to families Principal Megan Loh asked for patience and understanding as they navigate the new technology, however, some parents were concerned that they weren’t notified until Friday afternoon, Aug. 21, that the equipment had not arrived—the understanding had been that the distance learning classrooms were prepared. One parent said that it was “unacceptable and unconscionable” that the district had “spent so much time and money to prepare the school for in-person learning while no consideration has been given to state-mandated distance learning option.”

In her message, Loh assured parents that while the feed will be stationary, students will be able to hear and talk through Zoom and teachers will actively involve students in their lessons.

As detailed in the prevention plan, the district has set up a COVID-19 response team that will monitor the required screening and testing of staff. The district will also perform their own contact tracing. In the event of a positive case, the district will take appropriate action to quarantine the cohort or school in accordance with the California Department of Public Health guidelines.