Rowe campus has room for students to return at safe distances

A R. Roger Rowe middle school classroom with distancing in place.

The Rancho Santa Fe School District plans to return to a five-day, in-person school schedule this fall.

At a special board meeting on June 26, Superintendent Donna Tripi rolled out the details of the district’s reopening plan, which incorporates a “normal” school day for returning students with no split schedules.

“We’re trying to get all kids here,” Tripi said. “We know it’s so important to their education and to their social and emotional wellbeing for them to be in in-person instruction.”

Tripi said the plan represents their best thinking at this time, based on the health and safety guidelines from the state and the county. As there is conflicting information in the guidance and the landscape of COVID-19 is ever-changing, district protocols may still evolve as they get new information.

Tripi said district committees have been working on the logistics of having students return to campus as well as the instructional program—the committees have included teachers and the administration. A safety and hygiene committee included administrators and two physicians from the parent community and the district has also received input from industry experts regarding cleaning and sanitation. A social and emotional committee will also meet closer to the start of school, ideally when the new guidance counselor is on board.

With an expected enrollment of 542 students, distancing of six feet between teachers and students can be accommodated in all R. Roger Rowe School classrooms.

“We are very fortunate in our district. Not only do we have a state-of-the-art facility that’s only 10 years old and has very large classroom spaces so we’re able to do the distancing but also with the foundation’s help, we’re able to have small class sizes,” Tripi said. “We are able to do (physical distancing) in a better way than any district that I’ve heard about or talked to.”

Per the current guidelines, facial coverings should be worn by teachers and will be encouraged to be worn by students when they are less than six feet apart such as entering and exiting the campus and classrooms. Tripi said as students can be six feet apart in the classroom, they will not need to wear a mask all day at their desks unless it is their preference.

Hand sanitizers will be placed outside of every classroom and students will have their own supplies to limit sharing. Teachers will also be trained on hygiene and respiratory etiquette and the use of personal protective equipment—they will stress hand-washing and other campus protocols with students.

At recess, students will stay with their class or a stable group and the playground will be divided into zones—classes will have their own recess equipment and no more than four students will be allowed to a play group or game.

With the academic program, Tripi said they may consider having smaller groups for morning music and PE and they plan to minimize assemblies and special events. At middle school the plan is to stagger passing times and minimize the movement of students between classrooms.

Student screening is a big part of the plan to reopen—Tripi said they plan to do temperature checks and screening questions, possibly while students are still in the vehicle at drop-off. Students will be sent home if they have a temperature of over 100 degrees and/or exhibiting symptoms.

A parent on the call asked that the school think about sending all kids in the vehicle home if one has a high temperature. RSF School District Board President Scott Kahn said they also need to consider false positives with high temperatures.

“Kids are wearing beanies or have been running around at home, there’s lots of stuff that can get their temperature higher so think about how you want to reflex to double-check those so you’re minimizing the number of false positives,” Kahn said.

RSF School District Board Clerk Jee Manghani agreed, noting he took his son to a piano lesson the week before and his initial temperature was 100.5 mainly because it was hot outside. After waiting five minutes it was down to around 97.8. Manghani said they will have to factor in that people could potentially get backed up in the drop-off line as they wait for a second reading. Tripi noted that the arrival screening process will need some refining.

As required, the district will offer a voluntary distance learning option for students and they will survey parents to determine the number of families who need it. Tripi said she has heard from a few families that would like to wait until there is a vaccine until they feel comfortable having their child return to school but she did not anticipate a large number opting into distance learning. Neighboring school districts have seen about 5 to 14% of the student population choose distance learning.

Rancho Santa Fe’s planned distance learning model will be a more structured program than the one this spring with interactive learning from 9 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and asynchronous learning in the afternoon with assignments, feedback and traditional grading.

With around 70 people on the Zoom call listening on June 26, board member Tyler Seltzer said attendees could likely debate every point of the plan —as he said, school districts are in uncharted territory in light of the pandemic and there are no simple answers on any of the topics. While the district has requirements to follow, Seltzer said he hoped they would always aim to keep things reasonable in their reopening plans and protocols.

In addition to his call for reasonable solutions, Seltzer ended on a positive note of gratitude, recognizing previous school boards that built the modern facilities that they are benefiting from today.

“I commend that old leadership and the community that was willing to support building this incredible facility that we have, and I thank our parents for supporting small class sizes,” Seltzer said. “By having that combination, it’s allowing us to potentially do things that almost no other school district in San Diego is able to do.”