As if predicting what was to happen in the future, Sweetwater Union High School (SUHSD) district draft opening plan for the school year 2020-2021 last month called for starting the first month of school online. The original date for the new school year was scheduled to start July 20, but the new plan calls for a start day of Aug. 3, in lieu of the fact cities in the district’s schools have the highest cases of COVID-19. SUHSD is the second largest school district in San Diego encompassing many schools in the South Bay.

The goal for the board is to receive input from the community at this point. A group of 100 people which included staff, teachers, counselors, students and families have been doing research and exchanging ideas to come up with the draft.

The district wants to make sure it’s following public health guidelines to avoid further spreading but also to create enough confidence for parents and students so that they feel comfortable returning to school. Equipment like infrared thermometers and cleaning supplies have been ordered, and the district will continue to monitor local cases. The district also plans on establishing training protocols for hand washing, appropriate signage for student and staff, limiting the number of staff on campus. Drop off and and pick up lines and entry and exit points may be altered for better control. Face coverings will be required for student and staff and protocols established for cleaning high touch areas. If cases surface in any of the schools, a protocol has to be in place to deal with the situation. During the presentation a few models were shown on how to arrange classrooms with social distancing in mind. So far there are no dates to restart fall sports. Gyms, fields, pools locker rooms and weight rooms are closed and will remain closed.

Technology access and distribution, nutrition and financial considerations have also been studied. Devices will be sanitized and provided to students in plastic bags and connectivity will be provided through Cox Connect to Compete, T-Mobile and Hot spots as well as enhanced connectivity at school sites all by late July.

New students will be welcomed virtually via a pre-recorded or real time video. The district has served over one million meals over the summer and waivers have been requested to the California Department of Education so that there is flexibility for schools to continue to provide meals. Transportation is being looked into, taking into consideration a reduced number of students on each bus as well as its financial implications.

Financial considerations through the CARES Act are as follows: Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund of $8.2 million which has been designated for online learning, cleaning supplies and equipment. The funds have to be used by September 2020; The CARES Act - State of California CDE estimate is pending and the funds will need to be used by December 2020; CARES -Title Funding for technology calls for up to 15 percent of Title I Part A to be rolled over from last school year and used for the next 18 month. Also through Senate Bill 117, the amount of $664,000 was used to buy students’ devices which cost a total of $1.5 million.

Two models were presented for classes - a six class schedule, classes would be 18 weeks long as a traditional school semester system or a three class schedule with classes 9 weeks long on a quarter system.

The grading and learning system platforms will be adjusted. In the spring, the district allowed teachers to use their preferred platform. The district has now selected Google. Five schools were using Jupiter Grades and Infinite Campus but they will transition to Google at the end of the year for ease of use and continuity.

A option for all online school has been developed with APEX and SUHSD and counseling and academic guidance will be provided.

There are three models for starting the 2020-2021school year:

First four weeks of school from Aug. 3 to Aug. 28 will be distance learning for everyone with the goal to transition to campus instruction in phases;

First allowing 10 percent of the students and then 20 percent to 50 percent or more plus some activities;

Families can choose to do 100 percent online school through “Launch Academy.”

Families have been sent Google surveys and once the feedback comes in, the plan will be adjusted and revised. The survey is also available on the front page of the district’s website at www.sweetwaterschools.org.

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