Last week, the Learning Policy Institute released a white paper highlighting the San Diego County Office of Education’s (SDCOE) response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how that support helped 98% of local school districts reopen for in-person learning as of May 2021. The brief is part of a series of reopening profiles produced by the Learning Policy Institute to disseminate key public health research and reopening strategies to educators and policymakers.
Noting SDCOE has "mobilized technical assistance, leveraged partnerships, and gathered data to support districts as they have navigated initial school closure, distance learning, and planning for reopening," the white paper also describes how SDCOE supported the reopening of child care programs and highlights the reopening strategies adopted by Cajon Valley Union School District.
“Even before school campuses closed in March 2020 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, SDCOE was working to assist local schools and students in responding to and recovering from the pandemic,” said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. “There was a huge information gap, which is why we created a website to consolidate COVID-19 and distance learning resources and information. We also knew that the leaders in district, charter, and private schools would need actionable tools created with input and feedback from our partners in public health.”
SDCOE staff members worked closely with the County of San Diego to create a COVID-19 testing program for school employees and an equity-driven system for vaccinating education employees. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors allocated $5 million in CARES Act funding to support testing, tracing, and treatment of school employees. They also contributed $2 million in funding for internet connectivity.
Drawing from county and district documents and websites, as well as media coverage and interviews with staff members at SDCOE, the brief describes how the county office supported reopening. According to the authors, “SDCOE’s proactive approach in mobilizing technical assistance, partnerships, and data enabled the county to provide timely and actionable support for districts to resume in-person instruction. The county was quick to develop several comprehensive, actionable resources, which later became exemplars for the state. While San Diego faced a number of challenges in its reopening process, the county’s example shows how close collaboration with educators and public health workers can contribute to safe school reopening.”
Other noteworthy findings in the report include:
- “SDCOE officials assumed from the onset of the pandemic that COVID-19 might have long-term implications for schools. In April 2020, SDCOE released a Planning Assumptions and Recommendations document that covered six areas: public health, school operation, economic impact, educational impact, social-emotional impact, and community.”
- “On June 17, 2020, SDCOE launched a comprehensive framework for reopening campuses in the fall. The framework, which was developed after consulting district leaders, teachers unions, parent representatives, and experts in special education and transportation, provided a wide range of practical tools based on CDC guidelines. Targeting issues such as hybrid learning, food insecurity, and mental health impacts of the pandemic, the county’s framework included a wide range of resources, including planning materials for reopening; considerations for personnel and student policies; and resources on facility sanitizing, campus capacity, meal programs, busing, arrival and symptom screening procedures, and scheduling... SDCOE’s reopening framework served as an exemplar for the development of the initial reopening guidance that California released in July 2020.”
- “When some schools began to resume in-person instruction in fall 2020, San Diego was one of the few counties that had established a data reporting system to track the number of students who were participating in distance learning, hybrid learning, or full-time in-person learning, as well as the number of employees who were working in person on campuses.”
- “In addition to gathering data from districts, SDCOE played an important role in providing schools and districts with relevant data to inform their decisions on school reopening."
The Learning Policy Institute conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the institute connects policymakers and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels with the evidence, ideas, and actions needed to strengthen the education system from preschool through college and career readiness.