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San Diego Unified faces daunting task to keep students safe

Outdoor learning classroom at Mira Mesa High School
Posted at 5:53 PM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 20:53:45-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - In their first week of school, 6,500 Los Angeles Unified students missed at least one day of class because of coronavirus.

San Diego Unified administrators are doing everything in their power to keep that from happening here when school begins Monday including wearing masks both indoors and out.

With COVID cases surging, ABC 10News anchor Steve Atkinson went to Mira Mesa High School to show us how the district is trying to keep your kids safe.

“We’ve actually built these walls to retract and open up to allow for a ton of ventilation into the classroom,” says Mira Mesa Principal Jeff Sabins, proudly showing off a new classroom.

RELATED: In-Depth: Public school enrollment plummets during pandemic

The room is part of a new addition to Mira Mesa High School. It's state-of-the-art when it comes to COVID prevention and yet designed well before COVID was ever an issue.

“The air purifiers, we have minimum two and in some cases three in each classroom," adds Sabins.

Sabins is proud to show off these new classrooms with an open-air concept. But even with all this ventilation, students in San Diego Unified will have several layers of protection against COVID.

“When students first enter the classroom that’s the first thing they’ll encounter is that we have additional masks, we have gloves, we have hand sanitizer," says Sabins. "We even have wipes for the tables.”

RELATED: San Diego Unified updates mask policy to include outdoor masking

As of Thursday, the district announced it will now require students to wear masks outdoors to battle the current COVID surge. Masks have been a requirement statewide for all students indoors.

“Yes, inside the classroom, every staff member, every child, every person in San Diego Unified will be wearing a mask inside the classroom at all times”

It’s a tremendous responsibility for San Diego Unified, the second-largest school district in the state only behind LA Unified, to keep its 121,000 students safe.

“The strategies that have been effective to keep everybody safe on campus, those strategies will be in place starting Monday," says SDUSD Board President Richard Barrera. "And in fact, in many cases, we’ve actually increased the health and safety mitigation measures.”

“So basically, this is just a space for teachers to bring their students out here,” says Sabins showing off an outdoor classroom at Mira Mesa.

RELATED: How San Diego County schools are handling mask guidance, COVID-19 cases

For example, when Mira Mesa added a new wing to its school, it also created outdoor learning pods complete with whiteboards and plenty of theater seating.

“We did this before COVID," adds Sabins. "But it really worked out when we had this idea of, ‘How do we bring classrooms outside? Oh, we’ve already had this built!'"

Of course, not every school in San Diego Unified is built with these outdoor learning pods, but every school does have the opportunity to take advantage of San Diego’s temperate outdoor climate. The goal, indoors or out, is to keep your students in school for in-person learning if that’s their choice.

“The best learning happens when students are at school," says Barrera. "With their teacher, with other students, have all the support that they need.”

RELATED: Few San Diego Unified families took advantage of grade relief under AB 104

Barrera also stressed the importance of students who can get a COVID vaccine as well as their parents. He also acknowledges that students under 12 are currently unable to receive the vaccine but stresses this point.

“We’ve been very fortunate because we have a relationship with some of the world’s best scientists who are at UC San Diego, and they have been guiding us through this whole process," says Barrera. "Wearing masks keeps you safe and keeps you in school. Getting vaccinated is the most important thing that all of us can do to keep our students safe. Right now, students under 12 don’t yet have access to the vaccines, so if we want to make sure those students are safe and able to stay in school, those of us who can get vaccinated need to go and get vaccinated.”

There will be no hybrid schedule this year consisting of half in-person half at-home learning. Students who opted for the Virtual Academy, San Diego Unified's designated online school, will be offered a vigorous schedule with their own teachers. Less than 1% of students district-wide have opted for this program.