Del Mar district applies for waiver to reopen in-person school

DMUSD has prepared a COVID-19 prevention plan to reopen schools safely.

Students in the Del Mar Union School District could be back on campus as early as Sept. 8 as the district was one of only two public school districts in the county to apply for a waiver to re-open school for in-person instruction. All waivers must be approved by the county public health officer, and state officials and districts with complete applications were expected to be notified this week if their waivers were approved.

Since Aug. 7, San Diego County received 80 waiver applications to be able to open school for in-person instruction this fall. Those on the list include local private elementary schools Del Mar Pines, St. James Academy, Horizon Prep San Diego Jewish Academy, Santa Fe Christian, La Jolla Country Day, Francis Parker and The Bishop’s School.

Del Mar and the Rancho Santa Fe School District were the only public schools that filed for the waiver.

“Our district will be ready to open, due to the preparation we have done to ensure a safe reopening,” read a message to DMUSD families from Superintendent Holly McClurg.

The Rancho Santa Fe School District received notice on Aug. 18 that the county had approved its application—they expected to receive final word from the state by Aug. 20. As Del Mar does not know if the waiver will be approved in time to begin in-person on Aug. 24, the first two weeks of school will begin remotely and continue through Sept. 4. They then hope to be able to open their campuses to in-person learning on Sept. 8, with the distance learning option remaining available to families.

According to the governor’s order, schools can only physically open for in-person education when the county has been off the state’s monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. San Diego County came off the watchlist on Aug. 18, triggering the 14-day countdown for all schools countywide—the county must continue on its positive trajectory of low COVID-19 case rates to remain off the list.

With the 2020-21 school year, Del Mar has given the option for students to return to five-day a week in-school or take part in their new distance learning program Launch, which promises to be a more robust and structured program than was offered this spring, with a consistent online school day. The Launch program will not be affiliated with any physical school.

When last reported, about 400 families had signed up for Launch, which required the hiring of 16 Launch teachers. The district did not respond to a request for updated numbers by press time.

As the Launch program begins, some parents are raising questions about inequities between distance learning program and in-person instruction. A group of parents sent a letter to the board and district staff outlining their major concerns about Launch’s larger class sizes and lower allocation of STEAM + teachers, which they say puts Launch students at a disadvantage.

On Aug. 13, DMUSD announced that Launch class sizes will average 23 students and up to 25 for grades K-3 and average 28 and be up to 30 for grades 4-6, at the higher end of what was previously communicated to parents. At the same time, the district announced that in-person class sizes would be at the lower end: an average of 16 students for grades K-3 and 18 for grades 4-6.

Parents have requested that class sizes be reduced in Launch or that the district at least offer additional credentialed support teachers for larger classes.

The parents also stated that Launch should have an equitable share of STEAM+ funding on a per-student basis, in accordance with the arrangement between the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation and the district which provides specialists in science, technology, engineering, art, music and PE.

Additionally, as students in Launch will not be affiliated with any physical school, parents suggested that there should still be some effort for the students to remain connected to their community school.

“The students may be in the district Launch program, but they also should be considered part of their home school so that they do not feel further isolated in this difficult time,” the letter stated.

Parents requested that the board call a special meeting to address issues with Launch before school starts on Aug. 24 as the board’s next regularly scheduled board meeting is Wednesday, Aug. 26. As of press time, the district did not respond to request for comments and no special meeting has been called.