San Diego's Not 'Ready to Recover' Without Schools - Voice of San Diego

Opinion

San Diego's Not 'Ready to Recover' Without Schools

Planning for salons and restaurants and spas and warehouses and bookstores and technology companies to open but not mentioning where their employees’ kids will go during the day is like setting out all the chairs for a wedding ceremony without discussing the fact that the bride is actually dead.

San Diego Unified School District Trustee Richard Barrera speaks at press conference announcing school closures. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

On Monday evening, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer sent out the report a committee he and County Supervisor Greg Cox had organized to plan for the re-opening of local businesses.

The press release called it a “Reopening Strategy from Local Businesses and Workers.”

“San Diego is ready to recover, and is preparing for a reopening that’s safe, strategic and specific to our diverse industries,” Faulconer said in the release.

The report mentioned a lot of things, including that businesses should “establish plans for elevator usage that limits potential public exposure to the virus.”

No doubt, a crucial recommendation.

Then there was this: “Inform customers that patrons/visitors exhibiting COVID-19 like symptoms may be refused service.”

Sorry, chronic coughers. (Side note: Have you ever tried to suppress a cough? It doesn’t go well! I once started coughing on TV and I tried to stop it but it was a complete disaster and it came out of my eyeballs.)

One thing the strategy that the group of business and labor leaders did not include, though, was schools, summer camps or daycare.

Correction, it did.

“In addition to developing the following strategies, the RECOVER Advisory Group also identified near-term challenges for policy-makers’ consideration, including the ready availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and childcare needs … ”

Very helpful, RECOVER Advisory Group! Thank you. I had not thought of it as a consideration.

I thought of it, actually, as an emergency. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (Jeb!) put it quite well: “You can’t open the economy if children are at home. There’s no possible way. Most families have to have kids in school if they’re going to be able to go to work.”

Why are local officials having so much trouble seeing this?

They keep marching forward with re-opening strategies that don’t mention it. On Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors finalized its own version of strategies for the local economy to open up. Businesses, for example, must affirm that employee workstations are six feet apart. But if you look for the section requiring employers to affirm their employees’ children have access to summer camps, school or daycare, well, you’ll be looking for a while.

Planning for salons and restaurants and spas and warehouses and bookstores and technology companies to open but not even mentioning where their employees’ kids will go during the day is like setting out all the chairs for a wedding ceremony without discussing the fact that the bride is actually dead.

Don’t let them tell you “schools are a separate issue” from businesses. If you are a parent with three kids, barely keeping up with your job and helping them connect to the array of spotty distance learning efforts and your boss says hey, it’s time to come to work, how “separate” from the economy is school and summer camp going to feel?

Not only that, schools could point the way. If you figure out how to safely open schools, it would inform an array of other industries. But if it’s not safe to open schools, how is it safe to open a gym or a restaurant?

Yes, school districts are talking about it. And that’s a nightmare. U-T education reporter Kristen Taketa has been chronicling the many discussions local school districts are having about how and when schools may open.

“Perhaps the biggest change coming to schools is that they may have to reorganize themselves for blended learning, where students attend school for only one or two days a week and do distance learning or at-home work for the rest of the week,” she wrote on April 30.

So for the other three or four days of the week we’ll just … manage?

A week before that, Bob Mueller, a program specialist for student support services at the San Diego County Office of Education, told Taketa the school week as we know it might be done.

“Mueller says schools should start planning for the possibility that they may have to abandon the typical five-days-a-week, in-person school attendance model. … It can mean using schools as learning centers, where students check in, face-to-face or virtually, with teachers once a week or so for support,” she wrote.

This was part of a longer presentation and discussion that is more nuanced.

But nuance isn’t helping with the anxiety. Dive into all that and you drown in complexity. The only thing that is clear is that school leaders are terrified of the risk. What they’re telling us is that the best-case scenario is schools open in the fall, three or four months from now. And, when they do, parents will still have to manage their kids’ daily education.

Summer camps are all but gone. School officials continue to resist efforts to hold them accountable for how they spend their money and how they perform are all on hold. We have no idea when schools will open. My family got a letter the other day explaining to us why special education services were more or less over for now. It explained how that was legal. Because of the crisis. Nobody has any idea when those services or normal classes will be back.

All around us the infrastructure of childcare and education – already spotty, inequitable and expensive – has all but vanished, replaced with emergency meals, occasional Zoom meetings and FAQs.

Schools and camps and daycare aren’t someone else’s problem. They’re not a separate issue from businesses. San Diego is not “ready to recover” until schools are.

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