The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) has received numerous inquiries from members of the San Dieguito Union High School District community concerning the district’s plans to reopen. The impetus for many of these inquiries was a letter sent by the California Teachers Association (CTA) to SDCOE concerning the office’s role in campus reopening. It is important to clarify the facts of the situation.
CTA’s letter does not accurately reflect the position of SDCOE, and the claims in the letter are unfounded. We take particular exception to the intimation that SDCOE is somehow willfully denying state orders concerning “reopened” and reopening schools, and appreciate that CTA will be issuing a letter of clarification and correction.
The lead agency in coordinating the local response to the pandemic is the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, Public Health Services, with Dr. Wilma Wooten as public health officer. She and her team are responsible for interpreting state guidance, including guidance for K-12 schools, and for its enforcement.
SDCOE -- which is an independent entity governed by the San Diego County Board of Education -- does not have the authority to issue orders related to school reopening or closure, the inclusion of specific safety measures, or the adoption of educational programming. SDCOE does support schools in following state and local guidelines, but San Dieguito has not requested we review or provide feedback on the district’s plans.
As it relates to the reopening of campuses while the county is in the purple tier, the County of San Diego has taken a position concerning the definition and meaning of a “reopened school” that appears to be inconsistent with the guidance provided by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on this issue. SDCOE has relayed the contrast in guidance to local school leaders. In consultations with districts, we have made clear that the lack of consistency between the CDPH and the county puts superintendents and school boards in the difficult position of considering both answers and weighing their implications, while attempting to chart a course forward for their schools. We have worked diligently with the County of San Diego to request clarification from CDPH on this important issue.
Since campuses closed in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, SDCOE’s advice to districts has been to be flexible and to follow the spirit and intent of the measures recommended by public health authorities. Our approach has been to encourage schools to plan for a full spectrum of requirements around symptom screening, physical distancing, facial coverings, and limits on gathering sizes, recognizing that conditions may call for full or partial implementation of these measures based on state guidance.