A student gets on a bus after attending a two-hour session at Lafayette Elementary School in Clairemont. Photo by Chris Stone

The San Diego Unified School District on Tuesday committed to reopening all grade levels for in-person instruction on April 12 if teachers and staff have been vaccinated.

Board President Richard Barrera said the state’s second-largest district plans to call back staff on April 5 following spring break.

The commitment to reopen is contingent of vaccinations and the county moving out of the most-restrictive purple tier of COVID-19 infection.

“From the start of this crisis, we have remained committed to reopening when it was safe and responsible to do so,” Barrera said. “Full vaccinations for educators are part of that safety plan, and we are very grateful for our regional partners helping us to achieve this goal.”

The City of San Diego has offered to make emergency medical personnel available to help administer vaccines to educators, and San Diego County has said teacher vaccinations could begin as soon as Monday.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher praised the decision and said the county would provide the necessary vaccines.

“Getting our kids back in the classroom is one of our highest priorities and I want to commend San Diego Unified and the San Diego Education Association for reaching this agreement,” Fletcher said.

“At the county, we will do everything possible to get our school staff vaccinated so our classrooms can be open to in-person learning,” Fletcher added.

Barrera said families who wish to keep their students at home would be able to continue in distance learning.

Currently, some 4,000 students are visiting schools for scheduled learning appointments, and many more will soon be returning to more than 500 learning labs, which are scheduled to open in the weeks before spring break.

Board President Barrera also praised the state Legislature for the clear reopening guidance in Senate Bill 86, which was released Thursday, Feb. 18. He also thanked the panel of UC San Diego medical experts, which released the latest recommendations to the district Feb. 19.

Those two steps last week have allowed the district to keep its commitment to follow the science in planning for a safe, responsible classroom reopening, Barrera said.

According to the San Diego County Office of Education, some 88,000 students are now taking part in a hybrid learning environment, including some time on campus. That county number would immediately double once San Diego Unified launches its own hybrid program.

Board Vice President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne called on state lawmakers to move quickly to pass SB86 and then to move forward with additional funding for an equity-based recovery.

“Now is the time for the state to embark on a recovery plan to provide more instruction time and more dedicated attention to students. This recovery must be based on acceleration, not remediation,” Dr. Whitehurst-Payne said. “State funding must be set aside now, so districts can begin planning to implement evidence-based strategies, which should be locally driven, but could include expanded tutoring, in-person academic and enrichment classes this summer, and mental health supports.”

Updated at 1:40 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.