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Some San Diego schools postpone reopening as Omicron drives up COVID cases

Helix Charter High School in La Mesa is closed Wednesday and will be for a few days because of COVID-related staff shortages.
( Bill Wechter/For the Union-Tribune)

Helix Charter High, Cathedral Catholic among those changing plans because many staff and students are testing positive

The fast-spreading Omicron variant is causing some San Diego schools to delay reopening for in-person learning as they resume classes after winter break.

Helix Charter High in La Mesa is closing temporarily and switching to online learning for the rest of this week because too many of its staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

Helix Director Kevin Osborn announced Tuesday that the school will teach live classes via Zoom starting Wednesday, the school’s first day back from winter break, until Friday. The school expects to reopen on Monday.

Meanwhile the private Cathedral Catholic High in Carmel Valley is postponing its first day of school from Thursday to Monday because many students and staff tested positive at on-campus COVID testing events this week.

The school has made a negative PCR COVID test a requirement for returning to school.

“The ongoing challenges related to COVID are frustrating to all, especially after a relatively normal fall semester,” Cathedral Catholic leaders said in a letter to families Wednesday. “We are hopeful that we will get back on track Monday and continue for the remainder of the spring semester.”

The Omicron surge is straining schools’ ability to stay open as they return from winter break this week. So many staff are testing positive for COVID or are staying home in quarantine that schools are struggling to find enough adults to teach students, educators say.

Many school districts that resumed classes on Monday or Tuesday said they have not had to close schools yet but are filling in for absent teachers with substitutes or central office staff.

Education and political leaders stress that it is vital schools remain open as much as possible because students have already gone through a lot of disruption during past school closures, and they need access to in-person learning and socialization.

Osborn said Omicron has raised several health concerns for Helix. Hospitalizations are increasing, and unvaccinated people are more at risk.

More than 40 percent of Helix students are unvaccinated, Osborn said.

“We are concerned about the health risks associated with students and staff contracting the virus and potentially exposing their unvaccinated siblings and children under 5 who are not eligible to be vaccinated,” Osborn wrote in a letter to families.

The charter school is strongly encouraging students and staff to get vaccinated and boosted, Osborn said. The school also is encouraging students and staff to get tested for COVID before coming back to campus on Monday and is offering on-campus testing Thursday and Friday from 7:30 a.m. — 9:30 a.m. and will continue to offer on-campus testing throughout the semester.

Cathedral Catholic, which is still requiring a negative PCR test to return to school Monday, is holding on-campus PCR testing on Thursday from 7:30 a.m. — 9:30 a.m. and on Friday from 1 p.m. — 3 p.m.

While Helix remains closed, the school is providing pick-up breakfast and lunches to students on Wednesday through Friday. Helix enrolls about 2,500 students.

Cathedral Catholic enrolls about 1,600 students in grades 9 — 12 and has about 200 employees.

Updates

9:56 a.m. Jan. 6, 2022: This story has been updated to include information about Cathedral Catholic High.


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