The Escondido Union School District returned to in-class instruction at all campuses this past Tuesday (February 2), using its hybrid model, offering repeated assurances that the schools will be made as safe as possible for students and staff.
The decision was made at the board’s January 28 meeting, thus following through on the previously stated timeline to do so and reversing the reliance on distance learning for several weeks that had been imposed for all schools.
Michelle Breier, digital communications specialist for the district, said that the reopening went smoothly. She reported 32 staff absences, of these 16 for illness or injury and 16 for other reasons such as personal necessity or to cover leaves of absence. “We had sufficient staff to cover absences,” she said.
In deciding to reopen, the board was following the recommendation of Dr. Luis Rankins-Ibarra, superintendent of EUSD, who said it was solely his call.
The decision came despite the district’s zip codes still being in the high-infection, purple tier but the rates going in a downward trend though still “a ways to go,” according to Tracy Schmidt, director of integrated student services for the district. She reported a 23% decrease in the infectious rate of those coming to the campuses before the reopening.
She also said that district officials are periodically checking with somewhat more than 40 school staff members in quarantine to see how they are doing.
Proposing at the meeting an alternative to immediate reopening, board member Georgine Tomasi made a motion to reopen in a phased approach, she said, “as we had done in October,” she said. But there was no second to the motion.
The meeting began with the reading of 10 statements, the majority from parents encouraging return to in-class instruction. What they most often cited were the inadequacies of the distance learning approach, plus the social and psychological problems children were having by not interacting with their teachers and classmates.
However, one such statement also warned of the confusion and stress of returning to distance learning, should that become necessary.
In support of reopening, board President Doug Paulsen said he had recently visited with some Latinix families with non-English speaking members. He said they told him they were afraid of sending their children back to in-class learning, but they were more afraid of their children not receiving the necessary education.
During the meeting, board members repeatedly expressed three themes: the encouragement of mutual respect and toning down of some recent heated rhetoric; praise of district teachers for their hard work during the pandemic; and the difficulty and stress they felt in making the decision.
Board member Joan Gardner said she had read all of the emails sent by teachers and parents to board members, often bringing her near tears and making it difficult for her to sleep.
The district’s reopening plans continue to emphasize the use of recommended safety procedures, with Rankins-Ibarra guaranteeing “100%” classroom installation of the air filtration devices purchased by the district by the February 2 opening.
On its website, the district posted updated protocols based on new state guidelines, including: students in all grade levels required to wear face coverings at all times in school, including during PE; reduction of the quarantine timeline for both students and staff to 10 days from symptom onset or for 10 days from the test collection for asymptomatic individuals; and a new cohort quarantine protocol implemented to preserve substitute staffing and maintain instructional consistency for students.
In other action at the January 28 meeting, the board deleted from its agenda the review of Epiphany Prep Charter School’s request for five-year renewal and postponed this until a February 11 meeting.