SUHSD updates Phase 2 criteria and remains in distance learning


Lucia Rivera

Bonita Vista High students were almost evenly split between ranking distance learning “neutral,” “effective” and “not effective” in a survey conducted by the Sweetwater Union High School District. Data was provided during the SUHSD Board of Trustees special meeting on Nov. 24.

Lucia Rivera, Editor-in-Chief

During a special board meeting on Nov. 24, the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) Board of Trustees presented an updated metrics list for Phase 2 reopening and announced no set date for further reopening. 

The board voted to pass Board Item C-1 and to “approve modifying the July 23, 2020, Reopening Plan metrics and benchmarks to state that the district, after consulting with medical professionals, would move to Stage 2 Reopening two weeks after the district has sustained the following metrics for two weeks across the average of district zip codes.” 

The updated metrics consist of four criteria listed in the Nov. 24 special meeting presentation:

  • “County of San Diego in Tier Two or lower.
  • “14-day SUHSD Case Rate District average is less than 200 for two consecutive weeks (per [Center for Disease Control] (CDC)).
  • “SUHSD Testing Positivity District average is less than 8% for two consecutive weeks per (per [California Department of Public Health] (CDPH)).
  • “Medical Consultation – Any final decision to move to the next phase of reopening would be vetted through the District physician and Pediatric Epidemiologist”

Prior to Nov. 24, the metrics were a “14-day rolling average of San Diego County positive test rate below 5% [and a] 14-day rolling average of new Coronavirus cases in Sweetwater zip codes decreasing over 14 days.” 

According to the SUHSD reopening plan, Stage 2 of reopening outlines that “up to 10% of students could return to in-person instruction” and “would be selected based on the greatest need.” 

While the Board of Trustees addressed whether or not to increase reopening on Nov. 24, SUHSD began to have student cohorts come on campus on Nov. 5, including several student athlete, Associated Student Body (ASB) and assisted learning cohorts at Bonita Vista High (BVH). 

Additionally, the Board of Trustees voted to add a new reopening checkpoint on Feb. 1, 2021, before the next original checkpoint on March 1, 2021. No date was set for further reopening before then, although cohorts can continue to meet on school campuses. For a week following Thanksgiving, however, cohorts will pause on-campus attendance as a precaution for increased spread of the virus.

According to Equity, Culture and Support Services Security Coordinator and Advisor John Czajkowski, the district must take into account “local community risk,” not just student risk, when moving forward with reopening.  

Between Oct. 25 and Nov. 11, Czajkowski reported, SUHSD has had a 6.2 percent “of [reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction] (RT-PCR) tests that are positive,” landing the district in the “moderate risk of transmission in schools” category. The district obtains data through the San Diego County of Education. 

Furthermore, the SUHSD zip code had 375 new cases between Nov. 2 and 15 which is categorized under the “highest risk of transmission in schools,” differing from the SUHSD percentage-based ranking. New case numbers in the SUHSD area are significantly higher than in the greater San Diego county, which had 234 new cases between Nov. 2 and 15. 

Czajkowski emphasized that these rates change quickly, but “the rates are really going up” in the county, which most recently has placed San Diego in the purple tier. 

Moreover, SUHSD considered current research prior to the vote on Nov. 24, explaining on their special meeting presentation that “current research, referenced by County of San Diego medical experts and officials, indicates that the 10-19 age group, unlike 0-9, has been determined to become infected and transmit COVID-19 in a manner similar to adults.”

Additionally, the district reported, “unlike primary schools, secondary schools course scheduling requires far more movement between classrooms, so maintaining strict student cohorts is very difficult if not impossible – particularly in much larger schools.”

Prior to the vote by the Board of Trustees, dozens of community members, including teachers, parents and alumni, had their messages read aloud to the meeting attendees and viewers. The majority asked board members to vote against reopening in January, although several argued for different levels of reopening. 

Concerns cited by community members and meeting attendees included mental health issues among students, fear of contracting COVID-19, insufficient communication between administration and parents, inadequate distance learning for special education students, among other matters. While SUHSD administrators and board members at the special meeting addressed increased D/F rates among students and the need for mental health resources, Acting Superintendent Moises Aguirre maintained that a majority distance learning format was in the best interests of students and the community at this time. 

“The reason that Sweetwater Union High School District remains in distance learning, with small group supports and conditioning for our athletes – the reason why we remain in this mode is because of what we are all witnessing in our communities, across our community, across our state, and across our country with the spike of COVID-19,” Aguirre said during the live-streamed meeting. “We wanted to reiterate that the reason we remain in this space, and in this model, is to ensure we are focusing on the health and safety of our students, of our staff and all of our stakeholders.”