Dr. Wilma Wooten briefs the media
Dr. Wilma Wooten briefs the San Diego media on Monday. Image from video

Public health officials said Tuesday that all schools in San Diego County will be allowed to reopen for in-person instruction next week.

The announcement was made during a morning telebriefing with the county’s K-12 public and private school administrators. Current public health orders have been updated and become effective Saturday.

Additionally, schools will remain open, even if the county is placed back on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list because of a case rate that exceeds 100 per 100,000 residents, said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s chief health officer.

She tempered that slightly, however, saying a major increase in the case rate would likely trigger changes.

“If case rates become astronomically high again, that’s a game changer,” Wooten said.

The amended public health order does not require schools to reopen Sept. 1, but leaves it up to schools to decide independently. It also does not end distance learning.

The San Diego County Office of Education released a statement Tuesday afternoon addressing school reopening.

“There’s a lot of anticipation for Sept. 1, when San Diego County schools will be allowed to reopen for in-person learning if the county stays off the state’s watch list. But it’s important to note that even if schools are allowed to reopen for in-person instruction next week, that doesn’t mean they all will.

Once the state public health requirements are met, each of the 42 districts and more than 300 charter and private schools is responsible for developing and implementing their own reopening plan. Some schools, like those that have applied for waivers to reopen early, may be ready for in-person learning. Other schools have plans for a hybrid model or only distance learning for the semester. Each is different, but we know that reopening campuses will require a lot of planning, preparation, and expenses to keep students, families, and staff members safe.

SDCOE is here to support districts and schools in following state and local guidelines. It does not order school closures or reopening, and it does not dictate or mandate any kind of safety measures or educational programming.”

To reopen, schools must have an approved safe reopening plan that detail the measures they have in place to comply with the state’s safe reopening criteria. The county’s school districts, public charter schools, private and faith-based schools have been working on those plans for months and many have them in place.

Wooten said the state will release further guidance for schools on reopening for in-person instruction later today.

Meantime, county health officials provided best practices they have complied over the past weeks through the review of waiver applications submitted by schools seeking approval to restart classroom instruction for their TK-6 grades.

With the OK for all schools to reopen if they choose, the county has suspended the waiver program.

“It didn’t make sense to continue to process applications,” Wooten said. “All schools will be able to reopen Tuesday.”

— Story updated at 5:41 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.