SAN DIEGO (CNS) - San Diego Unified School District officials announced they were making preparations to get children back in schools, but were looking at a timeline of "months, not weeks," before that could become a reality.
The district will adopt strict new standards to protect students, staff and the community from the spread of COVID-19 when schools convene in person again, District Superintendent Cindy Marten said during a news conference Monday. The measures are being adopted and developed in consultation with experts from UCSD.
In the meantime, the district will begin classes remotely this month.
Conditions for reopening local schools will be stricter than state standards, will proceed in phases and will require critical protective measures including mandatory masks, proper ventilation and strict social distancing, according to district leaders.
State standards for reopening schools already require a seven-day testing positivity rate of less than 8% and other factors, but the panel convened by San Diego Unified called for adding contact tracing metrics and other factors included in the County of San Diego's designated health triggers.
"We consulted with the world's leading experts on all aspects of this pandemic because we wanted a comprehensive set of standards to create the safest possible environment for our students and staff," said Dr. Howard Taras, UCSD professor and consulting pediatrician for San Diego Unified.
"The strength in these new standards comes precisely from this combination of factors. Taken together, they represent the strictest reasonable conditions for safety when operations eventually resume."
According to Taras, San Diego Unified would not consider reopening campuses to in-person study until San Diego County reports fewer than seven community outbreaks of COVID-19 in the previous week and the illness showing up in rates fewer than 100 per 100,000 over the previous two weeks, among other metrics.
Marten said the district has purchased more than $11 million in personal protective equipment and has received some 200,000 masks in child and adult sizes from the state, along with 14,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.
All schools, Marten said, will follow the strict standards for reopening advised by the UCSD experts. Masks will be required for all students and staff on San Diego Unified campuses.
"The COVID-19 crisis has radically changed every part of our lives, and schools are no different. We must adapt to this new reality because it may be with us for years to come. That is why we are taking every step necessary to reopen in the safest, most responsible way possible," Marten said. "The fact our country has just passed another grim milestone in the history of this disease -- more than five million confirmed cases, makes it clear this is not yet the right time to begin a phased reopening, but our schools will be ready
when that time comes."
President of the San Diego Education Association Kisha Borden agreed with the decision to start the new school year online.
"We want to get back into our classrooms with our students and we need the support of the entire community to do the right thing by wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, and listening to the science," she said. "The scientific community has made it clear there are no shortcuts on the road to safely reopening schools. We have a long road ahead of us, but we're doing the right things to keep everyone safe."
Taras noted that while these guidelines were made using the best information available at the time, they were designed to be flexible with ongoing science on the spread and prevention of the pandemic.
"Whatever our experts say, it may change in three weeks," he said.