SAN DIEGO — Since the day the state ordered all schools to close in-person instruction to slow the spread of the coronavirus in March, the diocese’s Schools Office began to prepare a plan to safely reopen.
The preparations picked up steam over the summer, as administrators participated in webinars and telebriefings with state and county health authorities to understand what they needed to do to keep their students and staff safe when they returned to campus this fall.
Those plans are on hold, however.
On July 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered public and private schools in most counties, including San Diego, to remain physically closed until there is greater control of the virus in their region. The order means that around 13,000 students in San Diego’s 48 Catholic schools will begin the academic year like they ended it, using distance learning.
“This was not our decision,” said the director of the diocese’s schools, John Galvan. “As responsible citizens of our community, we have to follow the law.”
The governor’s order left room for districts to apply for a waiver. If granted, the county would allow schools to reopen with in-person instruction, something Galvan said that the diocese would pursue swiftly.
The California Catholic Conference called on Gov. Newsom to rapidly publish the criteria that would qualify school systems for the waiver.
“Our schools serve an irreplaceable public good in giving young people the chance to realize the American dream, especially young people from racial minority and low-income families,” the state’s bishops said in a statement issued on July 22.
“We understand that the threat of the coronavirus is real and ongoing in our state. And we understand the concerns that teachers, parents, and elected officials have about the safety of returning to the classrooms this fall. At the same time, we are deeply concerned about the broader health and development issues for our children if the state presumes to rely only on distance learning until a vaccine is developed.”
They pointed out that Catholic schools have been working diligently to implement federal, state and county guidance for schools to return to the classrooms safely.
On July 13, for instance, around 45 principals of San Diego Catholic schools participated in a 90-minute telebriefing with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, the Medical Director of Maternal, Child and Family Health, and a third doctor who is an expert in infectious diseases, all from the county’s Health and Human Services Agency; and a Duty Officer in Emergency Operations with the county’s Office of Education.
The experts reviewed guidance from California’s Departments of Public Health and Education for a safe reopening, answering the principals’ questions on how to implement what they call the “Big 4”: screening, hygiene and sanitation, face coverings and physical distancing.