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Confusion over San Diego schools' reopening plans if county falls into purple tier

Posted at 3:31 PM, Sep 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-18 19:13:09-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - While San Diego County teeters on the edge of a fall from the state's red to purple tier, local school districts are left scrambling to sort out conflicting directions.

"It's extremely frustrating. I want to bring kids back on campus more than anyone," said La Mesa-Spring Valley School District Superintendent David Feliciano during an interview with ABC10 News on Friday. His district pushed its reopening date to Nov. 30 but may be forced to stay closed if the San Diego County moves to the purple tier which is the most restrictive tier.

If by next Tuesday San Diego County's case rate continues to hit above 7 cases per 100,000 residents, we could be moved into California's purple tier.

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"It puts us in a difficult spot and it especially puts parents in a very difficult spot and we're the ones breaking that news [to them]," added Feliciano.

On Friday, officials with the California Department of Public Health wrote to ABC10News, "If a school did not open while the county was in the red tier, and the county subsequently moves to the purple tier, that school will not be able to open for in-person instruction, until the county has returned to the red tier and been in the red tier for two weeks."

That goes against what San Diego County officials have been reporting. Its online guidance plan reads in part, "If we are directed by the State to Tier 1, our schools will not be [affected] in their ability to continue in-person education or initiate their in-person education while in Tier 1. If our county were to go to Tier 1, a waiver would not be required to reopen for in-person learning and grade levels would not be restricted."

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"This is new for everyone and it's confusing and difficult for everyone," added Feliciano.

An official with the Poway Unified School District wrote to ABC10 News on Friday that it could not offer an interview because it was still trying to clarify the contradictions between the state and San Diego County.

On Friday afternoon, a spokesperson with San Diego County sent 10News the following statement:

"This is clearly a change in direction at the state level. There was no prior briefing or discussion with the state about this change. The County asked just this week for verification that schools could reopen if we fell back to the purple tier. 'Since we have been in Tier 2, it is our understanding that schools will continue to stay open (or have the opportunity to open) despite any potential movement to Tier 1.' The state verified this was correct. 'Your description below is correct.' We are currently seeking clarification. Additionally, if you review the current state tier system it fails to list schools under any sector. Therefore, school guidance then falls to the state’s previous “monitoring” guidelines. Those guidelines state if a county is off the state monitoring list for 14 days schools can reopen. If a county was to go back on the list, school reopening could continue."