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Schools ready ‘to hit the ground running’

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SAN DIEGO — Diocesan School Superintendent John Galvan predicts the upcoming school year will “look more normal” than the year before.

He foresees a return of field trips, retreats and other events that were canceled to slow the spread of COVID-19. He also hopes that parents, many of whom were pained by COVID safety measures that essentially barred them from campus, will be able to become active again with their children’s schools.

The first day of classes at most local Catholic schools will be Aug. 18.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on July 9 issued new COVID-safety recommendations for K-12 schools. On July 12, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) followed up with its own guidance, putting the CDC’s recommendations into a California context.

Per the CDPH, masks are optional outdoors for everyone in K-12 settings. Students are to wear masks indoors, with certain exemptions from the CDPH; adults must be masked when indoors with students.

The most recent diocesan directives, issued by Bishop Robert McElroy on June 17, do not require the vaccination of students, faculty or staff, although it is strongly encouraged.

Regarding whether many of the other COVID-safety measures that were adopted last year at local Catholic schools should be continued, the diocese is leaving that decision to the discretion of individual schools. This includes the clear plastic partitions that many schools chose to erect around each student’s desk.

Similarly, the Schools Office strongly recommends that schools continue to offer a distance-learning option.

Galvan said that schools “at the very least” should be prepared to provide “seamless continuation of learning” when individual students are required to quarantine or self-isolate.

Tiffany Krisman, a fifth-grade teacher at Santa Sophia Academy in Spring Valley, recalled how teachers were “anxious, worried and in a constant state of stress” last year as they prepared for the beginning of the school year.

Looking back, she quipped, “We could all be yoga instructors with the flexibility levels we have attained as educators.”

Bolstered by last year’s success, however, educators are approaching this year with confidence.

“I think we can all expect that flexibility will still be the key to a successful school year,” said Krisman. “But I also believe that we have seen that our schools are more than capable of adjusting to new expectations and requirements while consistently maintaining a positive, healthy, learning-focused environment for all of our students.”

For students who formerly attended St. Michael Academy in Paradise Hills, this school year will be different in another way.

After several years of declining enrollment, during which the diocesan Office for Schools worked closely with the community to save the school, this was considered no longer feasible.

The school closed at the end of last year. The diocese has pledged tuition assistance through eighth grade to students who attended St. Michael Academy last year in grades K through seventh and who would like to continue to receive a Catholic education.

Galvan said that many families took up that offer and their children have transferred to neighboring Catholic schools.

Diocesan schools were also asked to give additional consideration to faculty and staff from St. Michael Academy in their hiring process this year.

Dr. Julie Cantillon, associate director of the Office for Schools, said that local Catholic schools’ success last year in safely providing in-person instruction to students has led to increased interest in Catholic education. She pointed to increased enrollment diocese-wide and noted that many schools have waiting lists at all grade levels.

For Cantillon, it’s cause for celebration that most of the diocese’s Catholic schools were able to offer a full 180 days of in-person instruction last year and that students did not experience any of the learning loss that parents might have feared.

“We’re able to actually hit the ground running in August when students come back to school.”

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