SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Unified School District Monday opened the 2021-22 school year with COVID-19 safety measures in place and additional investments in student success.
"A new school year is full of excitement, hopes, dreams and new experiences," said Interim Superintendent Lamont Jackson. "That's no different this time around.
"What has changed is the safety protocol," he said. "We've invested time, energy and money into providing scientifically backed safeguards to allow everyone to reach their potential as carefully as possible."
San Diego Unified is investing nearly $3 billion in academic and social-emotional and well-being programs for students as well as upgrades to classrooms this school year, a 14% increase per student from a year ago. District leadership touts it as the largest investment ever in students and schools.
To reduce the possibility of COVID-19 transmission at schools, the district has adopted measures that include:
-- Upgraded HVAC filtration;
-- Portable air purifiers for areas not served by a larger filter;
-- Face masks required indoors and outdoors at all times, except when students are eating or participating in physical education, athletics or visual and performing arts;
-- Handwashing stations and cleaning wipes in multiple locations;
-- A particulate sensor and CO2 monitor at each site for monitoring indoor air quality;
-- Electrostatic disinfectant sprayers for cleaning school buses;
-- Protocols in place for contact tracing, should it be necessary; and
"For over a year, we've been working closely with a team of scientists and doctors at UC San Diego, as well as county health officials, to design a roadmap for reopening, staying open and keeping students safe," SDUSD Physician Dr. Howard Taras said.
Regarding masks, they not only have to be worn inside, which is required by the state, but outside as well, unless students are eating, taking part in PE class, sports or performing arts.
When asked to respond to those who oppose masks, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, who visited Marshall Elementary in Chollas Creek Monday, said,
“Masks help to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and that’s a simple measure to keep our kids safe. I'm not here to politicize anything. I'm not here to tell people what their choices need to be. I can only share what the facts are and that facts keep us safe.”
District officials hope outdoor masking will help reduce the number of students who have to miss school if they come into contact with someone with Covid.
Based on new policies, students and staff don't have to leave school if they are asymptomatic and are fully vaccinated, have already recovered from Covid recently, or if both the infected person and the close contact were wearing masks and the close contact agrees to regular Covid testing.
Benjamin Jurado, who has two first graders at Marshall Elementary, supports the new rules, saying,
"Hopefully with the face masks and hand sanitizer and following all the rules they can stay safe."
All San Diego Unified staff will be required to get vaccinated or be prepared to take part in weekly COVID-19 testing. For students, all families are required to make a choice on COVID-19 testing at the start of the new school year. All families must complete a COVID-19 Testing Acknowledgement Form and submit their response online. For unvaccinated school athletes, the district plans to have a testing team at high schools.
"Science has shown that testing, vaccinations, masks and excellent indoor ventilation all work to lessen the prevalence of COVID-19 in a given community," Taras said.
Families still not comfortable with returning to in-person learning have the option of enrolling in the new online Virtual Academy.
Every student, whether attending in person or online, will receive a laptop computer for the 2021-22 school year.
With the intention of helping to address the academic and social-emotional needs of students who are returning to campuses, the district will accelerate learning by giving students extra time and attention from teachers, counselors, school nurses and psychologists.
"We know schools are the best places for students to learn and grow, which is why we've put so many resources behind designing a plan for kids to get back in the classroom as safely as possible to start the new school year," Board of Education President Richard Barrera said.
Additionally, San Diego Unified is expanding Transitional Kindergarten- 4 access to all age-eligible early learners who turn 4 by Sept. 1, as part of TK-4/Universal Transitional Kindergarten district initiative. For the 21-22 school year, TK-4/UTK will be offered at any of the district's TK-4 elementary site locations.
This year, all San Diego Unified students also will have access to free meals on campus, regardless of their school of attendance or family income. All told, 17 meals per week -- breakfast, lunch, and supper Monday through Friday, plus lunch for the two weekend days -- will be available to students. Families will not have to fill out subsidized meal applications this year.
WATCH RELATED: First day of school at San Diego Unified School District