The South Bay’s largest school district will continue distance learning through the end of 2020, saying it’s too risky to resume in-person classes because of the pandemic.
“This has been one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to make as a district because we know in-person instruction is the best way to serve our students,” San Jose Unified School District superintendent Nancy Albarrán remarked in a media statement Wednesday, “and we are deeply disappointed that the conditions in our community do not allow us to safely bring our students back to school campuses.”
SJUSD leaders say they made their determination after taking community survey and consulting health experts, labor groups and local data on Covid-19 spread. The decision comes about a month into the new school year and just a week after the county graduated to the “Red Tier” under the state’s reopening blueprint, which sets the stage for schools to resume on-campus classes if case counts remain steady for two straight weeks.
Albarrán said SJUSD opted to continue virtual learning for its 30,000 students because of the county’s ongoing ban on indoor gatherings and rising Covid-19 case counts. While the ban doesn’t apply to K-12 schools, she said it makes sense to abide by them.
“We believe our schools should be a reflection of our community,” Albarrán wrote in an open letter to families in her district. “While we believe in-person instruction is the best option for our students, we cannot ignore the data on viral transmission in Santa Clara County and potentially compromise the health and safety of our students, families, and staff by bringing students back at this time.”
Another factor in SJUSD’s decision: the stubborn shortfall of widespread rapid testing.
Covid-19 cases countywide exceed the new case count rate of March 2020, when the public health shutdowns went into effect. That means community spread—that is, transmission of unknown origin—continues to be a problem, district officials noted.
Meanwhile, San Jose’s infection rate remains higher than other cities in the county.
Katie Rodriguez, a registered nurse and manager of SJUSD’s family health programs, said the county’s ramped-up pressure on private healthcare providers to offer more tests is a step in the right direction—but it’s still too early to bring students back to campus.
“Schools must be able to rely on adequate and rapid testing in order to safely reopen,” Rodriguez said in the SJUSD letter to families.
Another consideration was stability. SJUSD officials said they didn’t want to create another disruption for families with the fall semester already underway.
“We know that consistency is critical to our families,” SJUSD Associate Superintendent of Instruction Jodi Lax said. “We absolutely recognize that in-person learning is the ideal experience for students and teachers and want to welcome students back to campuses when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we are continuing to use community feedback to improve the distance learning experience for our students and teachers.”
With the next few months locked in online, Albarrán said the district will invest in upgrading equipment and limiting screen time for students. The district is also negotiating with the San Jose Teachers’ Association about providing a stipend for instructors to buy what they need to keep teaching remotely.