RSF School to return to distance learning for staff testing after winter break

RSF School District
(Jon Clark)

The Rancho Santa Fe School District will shift back into distance learning for all district students from Jan. 4 through Jan. 6, 2021 to allow time for re-entry testing of staff after winter break. The board made the decision at its Dec. 17 meeting in which new board members John Tree, Rosemarie Rohatgi and Annette Ross were sworn in.

Superintendent Donna Tripi said due to the longer break, the district would like to have the results before staff is back with students and with each other. During that first week back, all staff will be on campus delivering remote instruction from their classrooms.

At the meeting, the board heard public comment from R. Roger Rowe School teacher Heidi Moreno about teacher accommodations as many districts have opted to return to remote learning after winter break which has created childcare problems for some district staff. Poway Unified will be in remote learning for two weeks after break, reopening on Jan. 18, and Solana Beach School District will also be in distance learning for one week to allow for re-entry testing. Many private schools have also opted to delay reopening after winter break.

“I was extremely saddened to find that with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expiring on Dec. 31, I’m being forced to take an unpaid leave,” Moreno said, referencing the federal program that requires schools to provide teachers with paid leave sick leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

Moreno said she was not given the option to work remotely or bring her young child to school to complete distance learning under her supervision.

“It is to the benefit of my colleagues and students that I am able to continue teaching during this time,” Moreno said. “I know I am not the only one in this position, I speak on behalf of many of the incredible teachers at R. Roger Rowe that are dealing with childcare issues created by the pandemic and don’t deserve to also have this drastic cut in their paycheck.”

Moreno said it was “unacceptable and appalling” that the district was not providing alternative options for staff members. As issues like this may continue to arise in the coming year, she asked that the district develop a plan that would be “more considerate” to the faculty and their families.

Since reopening in August, the district made it to the last week of school before winter break before reporting its first case of COVID-19. Two staff members tested positive and had to quarantine. According to Tripi, there has still been no on-campus transmission of the virus.

At the meeting, Tripi provided the three new board members an overview of the testing the district has agreed to with its contract with UC San Diego. The district has committed to a total of $28,200 worth of testing (with the rate of $40 per test) to provide re-entry testing after longer breaks such as Thanksgiving and winter breaks, symptomatic testing of staff and students, and testing for individuals exposed to COVID-19 positive cases at school. The board has not approved asymptomatic surveillance testing of students.

Tripi said UC San Diego has said they are not able to enter into a contract for asymptomatic testing of students at this time due to the surge in cases, prioritizing testing of symptomatic patients and the testing of healthcare workers. Additionally, UC San Diego has opened up its services to the public at a cost of $65 per test.

Tripi said she would like the board to revisit the issue of asymptomatic testing for students after they meet with UC San Diego again in January: “The Health and Hygiene committee really feel like this is important, especially after winter break,” Tripi said.

The cost for the optional surveillance testing of students is estimated at $49,600 to $64,000. Tripi noted that it is possible that the Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation could help with the costs of the testing.

During his campaign, new trustee Tree said he was running primarily because of the coronavirus and the global impact it has had— as a general in the Air Force Reserve, he has been involved in the national COVID-19 response. At the meeting, he took advantage of his platform to share some insights he learned from a conference call that morning with senior leadership at the Pentagon about the coronavirus.

“Hope is on the horizon with the vaccines that are being approved,” Tree said. “But also I want everybody to understand that we are going to have darker times ahead, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I’m so proud of our school district…and all of the precautions that have taken place. This is a very unique gem in Southern California, our school district being open this entire fall with really zero cases up until very recently.”

“Parents, I want to implore all of you to remain vigilant. We all have fatigue and as Americans we believe in liberty and free will but we all have to to do our part,” Tree said of the measures like social distancing, wearing face masks and limiting gatherings. “It’s really not a political issue, it’s not a partisan issue, it’s a public safety issue.”

Tree, as well as Superintendent Tripi, have asked that families who do travel over winter break follow the guidelines and quarantine children upon their return. The California Department of Public Health is still suggesting 14 days of quarantining after all potential exposures including travel and gatherings with multiple households.

During the organizational meeting, Kali Kim was selected as the new board president, Jee Manghani as vice president and Rohatgi the new clerk. Board meeting times were also shifted from 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to a 7 p.m. start time.