The Coronado Unified School District held a special meeting July 9 to discuss safe reopening plans for the fall. The meeting, which board members and key staff attended remotely, served to present parent and staff survey results, review reopening guidelines, and hear public comments. No firm plans were made.
The majority of public comments expressed concern for safety guidelines and a fall reopening.
“I worry about the residual health effects of infections from this virus, including on young people,” said Bill Lemei, CHS physics teacher, in a public comment. “Those effects can’t be known. The truth is, we just do not know yet what we are dealing with. Humility, not arrogance is the appropriate attitude. Extreme caution is the only prudent course. These are our children.”
A group of teachers (Allyson Silva, Jennifer Zavislak, Kelli Craig, Devon Roberts, Rachel Bevilacqua, Wendy Moore, Chris Teachout, Lindsey Cummins, Libby Patrick, Jen Vernallis, Art Sawi, Toni Trinidad and Cyndi Furhman) wrote collectively to advocate for appropriate safety protocols for teachers and students. If safety measures could not be met, they urged the board to embrace remote learning.
“We want you, as our trusted leaders, to know that we long to be back at school in person with our precious students and colleagues,” wrote the teachers. “Yet, putting each other in the gravest danger to do so, doesn’t seem right, healthy, humane or smart. What we do know is what we value MOST is the safety of each and every staff member, student, and family who is part of CUSD.”
The teachers went on to say that opening schools at full capacity should not be a matter of convenience. They cited ventilation and sanitation issues as important concerns.
“The infection numbers for children ages 0-19 are surging, and by exposing one another, including staff, children will then be carriers to their own families and community members,” said the teachers. “We will have been the cause of an immediate spike, and we don’t believe any of us are willing to bear that burden.”
The teachers stated that although very few children actually die from COVID-19, young people still get very sick. They are intubated, suffering from pediatric multisystem inflammatory disease, a Kawasaki-like illness, or coronary artery aneurysms.
“How would we all feel if we knew we could have prevented even one fatality? OR even yet, caused one? Can we live with ourselves knowing that opening schools caused the death of a student, staff member or family member who contracted it? Are you OK with following the bare minimum safety protocols and hoping for the best?”
Parent Sara Berta echoed these comments.
“I know parents are overwhelmed, and I sympathize with all working parents who have no clue how to navigate distance learning or a hybrid program while working remotely or returning to an office,” said Berta. “However, none of that takes priority over the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and community. If there is anything this health crisis has taught us, it’s that acting in haste and opening things too early doesn’t do anything but put lives at risk and sets us back financially and economically.”
One parent commented that they were concerned about the viability of mask-wearing on younger learners, and another parent advocated for a full return to school, citing a decisive statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This statement strongly states that it’s best for the health and development of children to get back to in-person learning, as soon as possible.
“Priority number one is the health of students and teachers,” said Lauren Stephens. “Having students in school full time is the safest option for everyone.”
Stephens went on to cite recommendations from the AAP that claim that children are far less important drivers of transmissions than adults, and serious consideration should be paid towards strategies that schools remain open, even during periods of COVID-19 spread.
Superintendent Karl Mueller addressed the board, highlighting the changing nature of the virus, the public response to pandemic, and the need to be flexible and proactive as a school district.
“The news continues to change and evolve, and we are positioning ourselves to be as responsive to these shifts as possible,” said Mueller. “If there is one take away, for the Governing Board, our efforts have been intentional and will be relevant in whichever setting we find ourselves in on August 27.”
He also addressed the concerns from the public comments.
“There is an interest for us to provide assurances that all staff and students will be safe at all times in our care, and that we get our students back on campus, and that we provide a rigorous and robust experience for them when they aren’t on campus,” said Mueller. “We can’t have it all.”
According to the survey emailed to parents of children in the district, more than 89% of parents are hoping for a return to in-school, on-campus learning. 10% were aiming for off-campus learning, while 1% had other plans. 65% of teachers and staff surveyed opted for in-person learning.
Mueller pointed out the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, and the parent response to it.
“I would argue that those survey results would be different if we surveyed them today, and most likely be different if we surveyed again in the next few weeks,” said Mueller.
Neighboring school districts have also changed their tune in response to COVID spikes. Sweetwater School District had big plans to reopen on August 3, but moved to a distance learning protocol in response to an increase in COVID cases. San Diego School District says it will reopen on August 31 with on-campus, hybrid, and remote learning.
Mueller referred to the virus, and the district’s response to it, as “a moving target.”
Megan Battle, the CUSD Director of Learning, said the school is working hard to solidify a safe on-campus experience as well as a robust virtual learning option. She said, for on-campus learning, the district will organize temperature checks, sanitization between classes, and the staggering of schedules.
“Cleaning and disinfecting has to happen daily and multiple times during the day on high-touch surfaces,” said Battle. “Daily screening for temperature checks for staff and students has to happen prior to coming on campus.”
She said that, according to the current plan, the screenings will happen at home, for staff and students. They will then verify that there is no fever of more than 100 upon arrival. Any student or staff member who hasn’t taken their temperature and verified that information would be taken to a separate area where they would be screened.
“We know that physical distancing and face coverings will be a requirement,” said Battle. “On campus, we will have staggered schedules, utilizing all gates, and use (physical distance) markings indoors and outdoors. We know that not every classroom can do the six feet, in that case face coverings will be required for our students to wear during class, and PPE will be worn by all of our staff members.”
And when it comes to online virtual learning, it will be very different than what students and parents experienced in spring of this year.
“Online virtual learning in the fall, will not be what it was in the spring of this year,” says Battle. “Teacher interactions with students will play a bigger role, attendance will be required, and student engagement will be monitored on a daily basis.”
Battle said the virtual learning will be high-quality, and it will provide opportunities for students to participate in enrichment activities, clubs and athletics.
The next step? A special town hall meeting on July 23, where parents can ask questions about this reopening plan once more logistical details are flushed out. The district will also ask for parent commitment to on-campus or virtual learning soon after.
In August, the district plans to unveil a solid plan, site by site, to what on-campus and virtual learning looks like.
Several board members expressed concerns at the conclusion of the meeting.
“I see no plan for reopening here,” said Captain Lee Pontes, CUSD Board Member. “I see concepts for operations of how we intend to operate, but if I’m a parent, and I’m watching this, I don’t really see any plan for reopening. The sooner we can get that plan together, the parents will be satisfied.”
Captain Pontes also expressed concerns over teacher safety, and mask-wearing for younger learners.
“I have complete compassion for the teachers, they are going into an environment that is threatening to them, and the loved ones they are trying to protect,” said Captain Pontes. “A kindergartner and a first grader…they’re not going to wear a mask all day. I cannot see that happening. How are we going to make that happen? I don’t know what the answer is.”
Board Member Esther Valdez said she was concerned about readiness for future spikes and subsequent lockdowns.
“I think it’s safe to say there will be another lockdown based on the trends of coronavirus, and the way it’s mutating,” said Valdez. “I think it is prudent to have our school district have a strong plan in terms of establishing firm distance learning.”
Superintendent Mueller echoed that virtual learning would certainly play a role in the 2020-2021 school year.
Mueller sent out a district-wide email to parents on July 10th:
The Governing Board received a report on our current reopening approach during a Special Board meeting yesterday; no formal action was taken.
The update outlined reopening safety guidelines and presented an overview of on-campus and virtual learning options as well as hybrid model contingency planning. A recording of the meeting is available here.
“Staff will host a town hall forum on July 23 to solicit input and respond to community questions. Additional information and instructions on how to participate/submit questions will be provided on Friday, July 17.
A successful response to this pandemic requires a whole community effort. Schools do not operate independent of the communities we serve; we are interdependent and all plans must be responsive to current public health conditions. Precautions, mitigation, protocols and schedules for any school reopening plan are as dependent upon what is happening outside our jurisdiction as within. This responsibility is shared by us all.
Information related to CUSD’s reopening plans for the fall is dynamic. We receive and respond to data and review current public health guidance on a daily basis. As the impacts of COVID-19 shift in San Diego County, so do approaches and directives for public schools. As conditions change, so do plans. As such, we are not able to share a definitive plan at this time. We appreciate your patience as we continue to work diligently in order to respond to a variety of reopening scenarios for August 27. Please trust that our commitment to resuming instruction is steadfast, while prioritizing the health and well-being of our students and staff.”