Solana Beach schools to add more in-person school days

solana beach school district moving toward four days a week

Priority placed on youngest students first


Solana Beach School District kindergarteners will return to school four days a week on Monday, Nov. 9 and many district parents are hoping that all grade levels will follow close behind. Students, too, made their voices heard at an Oct. 29 board special meeting, telling the board that they want to be in school more than two days a week.

“This hybrid learning plan has not been working the best for me and my family,” said Demiana Attia, a fifth grader at Solana Ranch School. “I am in cohort A and every time the end of Tuesday comes around I feel sad and a little bit like I am going to cry because the rest of the week I’m online and don’t get to see my friends and teacher in person.”

Eve Milikowsky, a sixth grader at Solana Ranch, echoed her schoolmate’s sentiments: “I am happy to be in school two days a week but I want more days in class. On the days I am at home, I do a lot of asynchronous work. That means I work by myself for hours. It’s not fun, it’s lonely and I have no one to help me.”

While plans are in motion for SBSD first graders to return four days a week by Dec. 7 and grades 2-3 in January, the timeline has not been established for grades 4-6. The district plans to update the board at its Thursday, Nov. 12 board meeting about plans to get the upper grade students back to school more days while adhering to the health and safety measures.

All SBSD campuses are open in the hybrid model with 1,789 students choosing to attend in-person school while 924 students have opted for distance learning in the Online Scholars program. About 80 percent of Onsite Scholar families have chosen to participate in the district’s voluntary asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program.

In a survey of Onsite parents with 691 respondents, 58% said getting students back to school four days a week was their first priority. In the survey, 17% selected small cohorts of 12-20 students as their top priority while 11% said six feet of distancing.

Of the Onsite parents, 73% said they would be comfortable with children attending school four days a week while maximizing six feet of distancing “to the extent possible,” based on the current public health situation.

Since reopening on Sept. 21, Solana Beach has reported three COVID-19 cases (there are currently two active cases at Skyline and one at Solana Highlands), however, only one classroom has had to pivot to online learning for a 14-day quarantine. SBSD Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger said there has not been any school-related cases of transmission.

Brentlinger said the district’s recommended timeline for additional reopening takes into account the Thanksgiving and winter holiday breaks (with their potential for family travel and gatherings) as well as the peak months of the flu season, ensuring they are not bringing too many kids onto campus at one time which might result in an uptick in student or staff cases. Families have already been notified that there will be a week of online instruction only on Jan. 4-8 to allow for re-entry COVID-19 testing.

Brentlinger said it is clear that the pandemic has created “an enormous disruption” for everyone and she understands that everyone has their own level of frustration.

“I am confident SBSD is doing its due diligence in data-gathering, planning and execution. I am also certain that we can use our common goals as a school community to thoughtfully execute our next steps,” said Brentlinger in a Oct. 28 message to families. “I believe a common goal we all share is that we want schools to reopen for as many students as possible as quickly as possible without compromising established health guidelines.”

At the Oct. 29 meeting there were 17 public speakers, the majority asking the board to open up as soon as possible for four to five days a week. Parents said they were frustrated that they have been emailing the district to show support for reopening schools more days, and the survey results reflected the same, but the district has yet to change direction. Some parents also questioned the teachers union’s role in their students being kept at home.

“The parents of this community are tired of seeing their children become more and more distraught as your policies play out,” said parent Thor Halgen. “Online schooling three days per week is not working. My son is bored, the curriculum is not stimulating and it is a burden on the classroom teachers who have to create two sets of lesson plans, one for each cohort.”

Parents were also upset that there is currently no plan for grades 4-6 to return four days a week, particularly at a school like Solana Pacific which only includes grades 4-6. Stella Sung, co-president of the Solana Pacific site council for the Solana Beach Schools Foundation, said historically loyal and generous donors, parent leaders and school supporters are registering their displeasure about the current situation by withholding donations—Solana Pacific is only at 63% of its annual fund drive target amount, which was already reduced this year.

”It is our preference to expand from the hybrid model to at least four days a week,” Sung said. “We believe our district has the resources to do this safely and we are disappointed that the 4-6 graders will be the very last to transition to a more full-time, on-site learning and that it may not happen until 2021.”

At the meeting, the board also approved a new agreement with the Solana Beach Teachers Association that the district will provide teachers will no less than three weeks notice prior to a change in the current model, such as returning entire classrooms or grade levels. Another part of the agreement related to quarantine—if any teacher is required to quarantine as a result of a positive case, they will be provided a day’s substitute teacher pay as compensation for the preparation to transition to and from online learning.

In a survey of Onsite teachers and staff, the majority preferred phasing in students by grade level rather than in “chunks” of multiple grade levels. Courtney Goode, SBSD assistant superintendent of human relations, said the biggest concern for teachers in bringing more students back is classroom space and how rooms will be configured.

Solana Highlands School teacher Terri Baldwin said during public comment that in the hybrid model there are advantages because there are fewer students and desks. With more students in the room, the classrooms will be filled with desks, there will be no rug space for students to spread out and some students might not be able to see the board or screen. She also said with more students on campus, instructional time may be impacted by long lines for morning temperature checks as well as supervision concerns with the multiple staggered recess and lunch times.

Baldwin said before schools can fully reopen they need more staff to supervise morning check-ins and recesses as well as additional safety measures such as more plexiglass barriers between student desks in smaller classrooms where six feet of distancing will not be possible.

Superintendent Brentlinger said as the district continues planning for phasing in grades 4-6, they are considering options such as utilizing adjacent classroom spaces and non-traditional classrooms for more space and the possibility of an a.m./p.m. model like Poway Unified has implemented where cohorts come in the morning and another group in the afternoon for five days a week in-person instruction. Other considerations include additional staffing or using student teachers, teacher apprentices and parent volunteers.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 12.