The San Diego Unified School District will adopt strict new standards to protect students, staff, and the community from the spread of COVID-19. The measures are being adopted and developed in consultation with top experts on multiple aspects of the pandemic from the University of California, San Diego. As a result, conditions for reopening local schools will be stricter than state standards, will proceed in phases, and will require critical protective measures including mandatory masks, proper ventilation, and strict social distancing according to district leaders.
State standards for reopening schools already require a seven-day testing positivity rate of less than 8 percent and other factors, but the expert panel convened by San Diego Unified called for adding contact tracing metrics and other factors included in the County of San Diego health triggers. Before in-person schools can resume, strict safety protocols must also be in place. A complete list of recommended metrics and mitigations is attached to the end of this document.
“We consulted with the world’s leading experts on all aspects of this pandemic because we wanted a comprehensive set of standards to create the safest possible environment for our students and staff,” said Dr. Howard Taras, UC San Diego professor and consulting pediatrician for San Diego Unified, who oversaw the expert panel. “The strength of these new standards comes precisely from this combination of factors. Taken together, they represent the strictest reasonable conditions for safety when operations eventually resume.”
Board president Dr. John Lee Evans said the new standards reflect the board’s commitment to let science dictate the pace and process for reopening schools.
“The health and safety of our students and staff have been at the heart of every decision we have made since the start of this crisis,” Evans said. “We closed classrooms before the rest of the state realized it was the right thing to do. We made that decision to save lives. In the same way, our new health standards go farther than the rest of the state, and it is the right thing to do because it will save lives. These metrics will help lead our continued planning for an eventual safe reopening.”
The San Diego Unified health and safety standards eliminated some of the confusing and contradictory language regarding masks and social distancing in guidance produced by other agencies. Masks will be required for all students and staff on San Diego Unified campuses.
“The advice we heard most clearly from the public health experts is that going back to school must be a community-wide effort,” said board vice president Richard Barrera. “Everyone has to hold themselves accountable to the highest safety standards if we truly want to get this virus under control so our students can get back to school. That means: wear a mask, practice social distancing and maintain good hygiene because we truly are all in this together.”
Superintendent Cindy Marten said schools will be ready to reopen when conditions in the community allow them to do so. She announced the purchase of more than $11 million in personal protective equipment (PPE) and said the district has received some 200,000 masks in child and adult sizes from the state, along with 14,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. All schools, Marten said, will follow the strict standards for reopening advised by the UCSD experts.
“The COVID-19 crisis has radically changed every part of our lives, and schools are no different. We must adapt to this new reality because it may be with us for years to come. That is why we are taking every step necessary to reopen in the safest, most responsible way possible,” Marten said.
Marten said she shared the new health and safety guidelines on a morning call with principals from across San Diego Unified and highlighted masks, social distancing and air quality as the most important factors schools must reassess in light of the new standards. Principals, administrators, educators, and students, she said, are all eager to get back to the classroom, although they recognize that is not possible at this point in time.
“The fact our country has just passed another grim milestone in the history of this disease – more than 5 million confirmed cases, makes it clear this is not yet the right time to begin a phased reopening, but our schools will be ready when that time comes,” Marten said.
President of the San Diego Education Association (SDEA) Kisha Borden agreed with the decision, previously announced, that San Diego Unified will start the new school year online.
“We want to get back into our classrooms with our students and we need the support of the entire community to do the right thing by wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, and listening to the science. The scientific community has made it clear there are no shortcuts on the road to safely reopening schools. We have a long road ahead of us, but we’re doing the right things to keep everyone safe,” Borden said.
She added, “Even as our colleagues, the scientists, and the school administrators, challenge themselves to rethink what schools look like inside and outside, our professional educators are ready to provide the best possible online experience for our students to start the school year.”
The San Diego Unified Council of PTAs also backed the science-based approach. “The health and safety of children, families and school staff are of the utmost importance at this time,” said Mahogany Taylor, president and Derick Boerner, immediate past president. “We appreciate the school district’s efforts in working with the medical community to lay out clear guidelines for when our schools can safely reopen for in-person instruction. Science should guide the reopening plans as we prepare the upcoming school year. We feel the district is providing that in the message today. We look forward to the continued partnership that PTA has with SDUSD as we prepare to start another year of learning for our children.”