San Dieguito sets January return date for in-person school

The San Dieguito Union High School District board met on Oct. 28.

San Dieguito Union High School District students will not be returning to in-person school until January 2021.

On Oct. 14, SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley had recommended a goal of expanding in-person instruction for one day a week beginning in November, however, in a message to families posted on the district’s website on Oct. 30, those target opening dates have been extended.

“In order to provide a safe, stable, and sustainable return to campus, and in consideration of maintaining the integrity of our instructional model, we are moving that date to the week of January 4, 2021, for the remainder of Quarter 2,” Haley said. “These three weeks will provide opportunities for teachers to prepare students for the end of the first semester.”

San Dieguito schools will continue expanding campus access for groups of students in November and December. Since September, students with special needs, English language learners and high-risk students with inadequate learning environments have been attending school in small groups and principals have been working to bring back other groups of students for on-campus, off-screen time.

According to Haley’s message, leading up to the week of Jan. 4, each school site will be holding meetings with students and parents to review bell schedules for one day a week of in-person learning. Additionally, every school will be surveying parents on their intent to return to on-campus activities and developing cohorts based on the results.

“Guided by responsible, hopeful decision-making, as we look to Quarter 3, we will collaboratively work to develop a continued option for on-campus learning with the goal of safely educating students,” Haley said. “Our goal continues to be the safe return to campus for all students.”

SDUHSD Vice President Mo Muir, who along with Clerk Melisse Mossy voted against the district remaining in distance learning model through the second quarter, has been advocating for getting students back on campus in a safe and expedited manner.

“I’m disappointed in the superintendent’s lack of a comprehensive plan and his decision to delay re-opening until January 4, without even referencing a plan or clearly communicating his plan to the public. A goal without a plan is just a wish,” Muir stated. “Although, I wish for our teachers and students to return to school, I also know how important it is for the district to prioritize this goal with a comprehensive plan, with contingencies, that prepare our teachers and students with the necessary resources to achieve a successful outcome.”

Per the board’s resolution passed on Oct. 14, all staff members who had not already physically reported were required to do so beginning Oct. 29 in order to support the efforts to bring more students back to campuses. Some parents have referred to this resolution as a “mandate to end remote working.”

Haley said that teachers began returning last week in a phased-in approach. Not everybody will be back at the same time and not all school sites will look the same as each school principal has been given some flexibility. Some teachers returned the first few days last week just to check in and assess classrooms and technology needs. Returning teachers and staff are also being tested for COVID-19.

Board passes revised resolution at special board meeting
The board held a special meeting on Oct. 28 regarding the approval of a resolution “declaring emergency conditions exist” and granting the superintendent limited authorization to take necessary actions to respond to the pandemic. The agenda was confusing for many parents— the word “emergency” caused alarm for parents who without clear explanation were led to believe that there was not adequate safety items needed to reopen schools. In the public comments received, parents were also concerned about the request to grant the superintendent “emergency powers”, asking for more transparency and checks and balances about what is being purchased.

Many parents were also frustrated that the board’s agenda did not include a discussion on bringing students back to school.

“Lack of compassion, transparency, communication, accountability and responsibility have reached crisis proportions in this district, adversely affecting our teachers, students and community,” wrote parent Jill Lax.

Haley stated that the emergency condition is the state of California, not SDUHSD. The language of the resolution was provided to the district by the governor in March to provide flexibility for districts to purchase related items for safety without the delay of having to go out to bid.

The emergency resolution had been in place since the beginning of the pandemic but in September the board took action to rescind the resolution at SDUHSD Vice President Muir’s request. As board President Beth Hergesheimer said, rescinding the resolution has led to “unintended consequences” on the district’s purchasing abilities that they are just now realizing.

SDUHSD Associate Superintendent of Business Services Tina Douglas explained that the resolution is needed for the district to purchase HEPA filters for air filtration in campus spaces. The district has been purchasing the filters in phases and they are approaching the limit of what they can purchase without the resolution in place.

“As we continued the process of purchasing HEPA filters, we bumped up against the bid limit. That’s all this is. There’s not a new emergency here,” Haley said.

Haley added that the resolution was not granting him authority absent of a board directive: “We’re not purchasing anything the board has not prior authorized. This isn’t a way to circumvent the power of the board at all.”

Mossy acknowledged the public comments that parents perhaps didn’t trust the board’s intentions or motives in the resolution’s wording. Board member Joyce Dalessandro was also concerned that the resolution was vague and did not have an end date. At the meeting, the board worked to wordsmith the resolution, limiting the scope to “the purchase of health and safety items” with agreement by the board and adding an end date of Dec. 31.

During the discussion, Muir said that she is getting emails from teachers and parents saying the district is not prepared and that they were only doing “the minimal” in preparations of campuses. She wanted assurances from the superintendent that the district was ready to safely open.

“We’re completely prepared,” Haley stated. As he noted in his message to district families, the district has developed an “extensive” Safe Reopening Plan and the plans meet or exceed all of the requirements they have been given by the state and county.

To further assure the public and be more transparent about safety purchases and progress that has been made, Muir suggested a video tour of campuses: “Every time we get an email we can show them ‘look what we’ve done and we’re ready to go’.” she said.

Mossy agreed and suggested it could even be a student project, to show all of the work the district has accomplished and what is in action.