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In-class instruction ‘temporarily’ suspended at Pioneer Elementary; HEPA air filters purchased for classrooms


The Escondido Union School District last week announced the “temporary suspension” of in-class instruction at Pioneer Elementary School through the rest of November. The district said it took this action after learning that three people described as in the Pioneer school “community” were found infected by the COVID-19 virus, the transmission described as occurring “off-campus.”

The suspension includes cancellation of extended care, though distribution of free, to-go meals will continue. The action affects 449 students who will continue to use the hybrid model distance learning method; in-class activities are expected to resume on Tuesday, December 1. 

The move follows the temporary suspension of face-to-face instruction by the district earlier this month at Mission Middle School (Times-Advocate, November 5). The suspension was lifted on Monday, November 16, and students returned to in-class activities the following day.

With the suspension at Pioneer Elementary, the district essentially used the same rationale as it did for the suspension at Mission Middle School:  the infection of school personnel; a high rate of infections in the neighborhoods surrounding the schools; and the need – out of an “abundance of caution” – to quarantine teachers and support staff. 

It again said that the San Diego Department of Public Health is aware of the new cases and the district’s action, and county health officials “have continued to express confidence” in the district’s health and safety protocols.

The district says it has now recorded 17 COVID-19 infections (up from the previous total of 12) and the quarantine of 165 students and 33 staff members (up from previous totals of 92 students and 21 staff), accounting for somewhat less than 2% of enrollment in its hybrid classes. 

At last week’s regular meeting (Nov. 12), board members approved the purchase of large — but portable — HEPA filtration units to enhance classroom health and safety. Michael Taylor, assistant principal for business services, said that the units will be deployed at all 23 of district schools in the next five to six weeks.

Taylor said that the devices are certified to remove 99.97% of all air particles. At the price of $2,000 per unit, the cost for 1,500 to 1,700 units will be from $3 million to $3.4 million; purchase of long-term filters for the units would cost from $180,000 to $204,000, each filter certified to last 40,000 hours.

Taylor said the units will be purchased using money from the district’s COVID 19 fund of $20.3 million, a combination of state and federal money provided for dealing with the viral pandemic.

In other reports, Leila Sackfield, deputy superintendent of human resources, provided an overview of comments made through the district’s Thoughtexchange outreach launched early in the pandemic to get resident/teacher comments on issues and priorities. She said she had read every one of the more than 1,300 responses received from “stakeholders” — 60% of these from parents or guardians. 

She said the bulk of the comments emphasized the need for the schools to have effective health and safety measures and that all comments will be passed on to the district’s “Design Team.”

Michelle Breier, digital communications specialist for the district, said that a new Thoughtexchange portal was opened again on Tuesday, November 17, and will be available to accept comments and concerns for one week. She said that all comments received will help to identify “the most important things our school district needs to think about as we continue to respond to COVID-19 and plan for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.”

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