PUSD reopens 10 elementary schools, plans for small groups on high school campuses

Students+at+Painted+Rock+elementary+school+listen+to+class+Sept.+23.+PUSD+reopened+10+elementary+schools+today+and+will+reopen+the+other+16+Oct.+12.

Students at Painted Rock elementary school listen to class Sept. 23. PUSD reopened 10 elementary schools today and will reopen the other 16 Oct. 12.

YJ Si, News Editor

A reopening of 10 Poway Unified School District (PUSD) elementary schools is scheduled for today. PUSD made the decision at its board meeting Sept. 10 to reopen using a phased-in approach, with the plan to reopen the remaining 16 elementary schools Oct. 12. PUSD also plans to start bringing small groups of students on middle and high school campuses.

San Diego County updated its public health guidelines in accordance with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Sept. 1 to allow public schools to reopen for in-person instruction. Currently, San Diego County is in the red, or “substantial” tier regarding cases of COVID-19, meaning that the county reports between four to seven daily cases per 100,000 people. If the county moves above a seven daily case weekly average for two weeks, it will move into the purple, or “widespread” tier. 

As of Sept. 29, the county’s daily case rate was 6.7 per 100,000 residents, just short of the seven that would put the county into the purple tier. According to the CDPH, if the county moves into the purple tier, schools that have reopened may stay open, but schools that have not yet done so will not be able to.

According to Associate Superintendent of Learning Support Services Carol Osborne, PUSD’s current model for reopening elementary schools follows an a.m./p.m. plan. This asynchronous plan allows all students to have five half-days on campus, with a cleaning and disinfecting of facilities after the a.m. group in order to create a safer environment for the p.m. group. Both groups will receive free school lunches, and students will be grouped based on transportation or after-school needs. PUSD will follow San Diego County Office of Education guidelines in dealing with COVID-19 cases on campus. 

Because of the differences in each school’s available staff on campus and the number of students who chose to begin on-campus instruction, plans were made to be site-specific. Canyon View Elementary School (CVES) Principal Jill Halsey took charge of the plans for CVES, one of the 10 elementary schools set to reopen.

To begin plans for reopening, Halsey said she had to first consider the comfort level of students and staff. Once staff agreed to reopen, Halsey notified PUSD of their decision to do so. She worked closely with reopening teams to create a coherent and in-depth plan for students to return. They worked on paths of travel, air filtration, disinfection protocols, and communication with families. 

“Something we made sure to consider was how we can provide an equitable experience in school, virtual or on-campus,” she said. “[Even if families selected the on-campus option,] that doesn’t necessarily mean they are comfortable. I am readily available for our community to ensure that all of the questions that are out there have answers.”

Students at Painted Rock Elementary School model what class would look like on campus, Sept. 23. PUSD reopened 10 elementary schools today and will reopen the other 16 Oct. 12. Photo courtesy of Christine Paik.

PUSD announced plans to move forward with middle and high school reopenings at its board meeting Sept. 24. Westview Principal Tina Zeigler is currently working with her own reopening team to begin allowing students back on campus. According to Ziegler, small groups of extra-curricular or co-curricular activities such as NJROTC are currently being invited back to school grounds. These groups will be scheduled to minimize overlap, and all spaces used will be sanitized by custodial staff.  Ziegler said that once Westview officially reopens and has a plan approved by PUSD’s board of education, students will have the opportunity to choose whether or not to return to campus, and will not be held to their decision from July. Sufficient staffing, she said, is also a concern for Westview’s reopening plan, as there are mismatches between what the teachers and students want. She said that teachers will most likely be re-surveyed, and those choices will be matched up with student decisions. 

Ziegler said that it is currently too early in the planning process to share any specifics, and families can expect a more detailed plan in the next two weeks.

Reid Naritomi (11) said that although he had initially chosen the virtual option for safety concerns, going back to campus for in-person instruction is more effective and meaningful, even if it is not entirely safe.

“Personally, I find it easier to interact with teachers face to face, as I find myself drifting off while hearing someone talk through a screen,” he said. 

Emily Hauw (11) said that she also misses the personal interactions that on-campus instruction can provide. Moreover, she wanted to see her friends, so choosing the on-campus option on PUSD’s commitment survey seemed like the obvious choice in July.

However, as she learned more about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s affected families all over the country, she changed her decision. While she isn’t able to meet her teachers or see her friends, she also doesn’t want to put her family at risk. 

“If the district can promise that all students will have equal opportunity to come back to campus, that there are zero chances of an outbreak, and that students, faculty, and administration will remain safe, sign me up to come back,” Hauw said. “But until then, I will safely stick this out and pray that we can go back to normalcy soon.”

Ziegler said that Westview’s plan for reopening is still in the works and will be presented at the PUSD board meeting Oct. 15.