Amid the regional surge of COVID-19, the five public schools that make up the La Jolla group in the San Diego Unified School District are managing rising case numbers by following protocols established by local health officials and relying on their school communities to weather the stress on resources.
Admins who replied to La Jolla Light Inquiries about how they handled the surge indicated that they were maintaining “the priority for safety.”
The district has issued a letter to families stating that schools are using “every option available” to stay open, including assigning “non-school staff to schools when we have a shortage” of teachers on campus.
The letter says schools may also choose to move classes to an “educational lab,” outdoors, or assign freelance work.
“If, after exhausting all available options, the principal, working with the district support team, determines that it is unsafe to continue in-person guidance due to an acute staff shortage, he may ask [that] A COVID Impact Day (similar to a hot day) is being declared at their school,” the letter says.
“Until now, these measures have not been needed,” said Nonna Richard, principal of Tory Pines Elementary School [in La Jolla], even in the days of great employment challenges.” She added that “none of us can predict the future; It’s day after day.”
The city and county of San Diego reflecting increases in coronavirus cases due to the highly contagious variant Omicron, La Jolla schools reported 18 active cases from January 2-8. Twelve of these were employees.
According to the SDUSD COVID-19 Dashboard, of the 18 cases, six were at Bird Rock Elementary School, two were at La Jolla Elementary School, six were at La Jolla High School, three were at Muirlands Middle School and one was at Torrey Pines Elementary.
But Richard stated in a January 11 letter to TPES parents that the school “is experiencing positive cases almost daily,” with about 16 percent of students absent from January 10-11.
Mike Murad, a spokesperson for SDUSD, told light that “with the recent surge, the school district is experiencing a lag in the number of positive student tests reported.”
Students and staff are asked to stay home if they develop any symptoms of illness; Thus, an absence does not necessarily mean a coronavirus case.
If a child or employee tests positive for the virus, their return to school is determined by the San Diego County Office of Education’s four-page COVID-19 decision tree, which is updated regularly.
The decision tree is also used to determine quarantine days for staff and students who have been identified as having been in close contact with a person who has tested positive – meaning they have been within six feet of the person for more than 15 minutes.
A parent at La Jolla Primary School expressed concern after his child was asked to quarantine after possible exposure during lunchtime, when children are allowed to remove their masks to eat. The parent – who has not been named so as not to recognize his child – indicated that he did not understand why the child was required to stay home for eight days.
LJES Director Stephanie Hasselbrink did not address parental concerns to light But she said she “fully follows” the decision tree and guides parents through flow charts “to explain their children’s options and possible return dates.”
The SDUSD is not required for outdoor spacing, and “when other mitigating factors are in place indoors, such as mask wearing and ventilation, physical distancing limits are no longer necessary,” according to the back-to-school guide and guidance from the California Department of Public Health.
“If there is a gray area when it comes to close contact, the area is erring on the side of quarantine,” Murad said.
Richard said that “With the frequent updates of the decision tree, everyone is doing their best to make the right decision at any time. It is appreciated by parents and educators.” [and the] Attending and/or working in the health office as a team to keep safety the priority.”
Jeff Luna, principal of Muirlands Middle School, said the campus saw staff shortages in the days after the district returned January 3 from winter recess, but that “our teaching staff have volunteered to work during prep periods to ensure we have a highly qualified instructor in place.” Quality covers all seasons.
“Throughout this pandemic, we have done tremendous work to continue the outstanding educational integrity that our community has grown to expect from Moerlands,” he said.
La Jolla High School Principal Chuck Podorsky expressed the pride of other principals in the campus communities. “I continue to be inspired every day by our amazing Vikings team,” he said. “Not only do they give their best every day to students, but their willingness to help make sure classes are covered in difficult times is exceptional.”
He also expressed his gratitude “to our regular substitute teachers who have been with us for years as they continue to make a difference for us every day.”
“It’s tough now,” Richard said. “But I am very proud of our community and our region in keeping on-site learning accessible for our children.”
Bird Rock Elementary School Principal Andi Frost did not respond to a request for comment. ◆