San Dieguito opts for distance learning through first quarter

San Dieguito Union High School District
San Dieguito Union High School District administration offices
(File photo)

San Dieguito Union High School District will start the entirety of the first quarter of the school year with distance learning. The board gave direction to follow SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley’s recommendation at its July 30 virtual meeting.

Per Gov. Gavin Newsom’s July 17 order, schools can only physically open for in-person education when the county has been off the state monitoring list for 14 consecutive days—San Diego County has been on the list since July 3.

In order for San Dieguito to reopen, the county would have to be off the list by Aug. 10 and the first day of school is Aug. 25. Haley said there is still uncertainty about the school being required to close if the county got back on the state’s watch list, potentially causing students and staff to be bouncing in and out of school. His recommendation further reflects that the state has issued requirements for staff testing that at this time, the county may not be able to accommodate.

“Under the current situation that we find ourselves in, it’s difficult to consider a full reopening and then a closure, and then another reopening,” Haley said. “Although I would love students to be on campus, opening and closing wouldn’t be a stable learning environment and wouldn’t necessarily make sense for staff either.”

When the district is allowed to bring students on campus following the state and county public health orders, the district will do so prioritizing special education students, English language learners, high-risk students, students with inadequate learning environments first and then all other students.

At the July 30 meeting, staff presented refined bell schedules for all of the schools as they seek to implement a more “rigorous” distance learning model that reflects research-based teaching practices, consistent learning time, more student support and more opportunities for students to connect.

“If we have to be in the distance learning world, it’s going to be the very best distance learning world that we can create for our students,” Haley said.

Brieahna Weatherford, principal of Oak Crest Middle School and member of the reopening committee, said the virtual learning model planned for the year will be “significantly” different than the emergency model rolled out in the spring. Many parents have questioned the quality and efficacy of the spring model—one parent’s written comments said his daughter’s teacher “completely gave up,” many have said that their teachers did not host a single Zoom class.

Weatherford said the focus for distance learning this fall is on quality academic content that is challenging and aligned with grade level standards, expectations for daily live instruction, accountability for students with clear bell schedules, letter grades and regular academic progress reports and providing an assessment of student learning loss with a universal screener.

Diegueno Middle School Principal Cara Dolnik said that learning loss is one of the greatest concerns they have heading into the school year and they are working to imbed as much support time as possible into schedules to reach students who are struggling.

“Trust me, I want to go back to my classroom and teach my students daily but it cannot be done safely given the health orders, government mandates and the rapid spread of the virus,” said teacher Brian Shay, who served on the teaching and learning task force. “The proposed bell schedules set the stage for daily live teaching and learning for all students. The professional learning teachers will have in August will help us create dynamic virtual learning environments for all students.”

Draft bell schedules have been created for each school site—a sample middle school schedule runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with three 80-minute blocks of live instruction, breaks and afternoons designated for asynchronous learning and time for targeted student support in academics and social and emotional needs.

“When we think about bell schedules, we have to do it differently in the distance learning environment than we do in the traditional setting and that includes considering fatigue and a need for screen-time breaks,” said Canyon Crest Academy Principal Brett Killeen.

At Canyon Crest Academy, a draft schedule begins with morning office hours and the first period not beginning until 8:40 a.m. The schedule is then carved up to include four 60-minute blocks with breaks in between and afternoons for independent asynchronous student learning and time for teachers to collaborate or connect with students and families.

“One of the big things that kids lost in the spring was connectivity. The feedback we got at the forums was ‘We really miss communicating with one another’ so we put structures in place to accommodate and promote that,” Killeen said, giving for example Torrey Pines’ draft block schedule that includes “Wellness Wednesdays” with 30 minutes set aside for social and emotional learning, student club meetings and ASB activities. “At every school in our district now we have built-in time for student connectivity.”

The board received 33 written comments and 10 requests to speak during public comment at the July 30 meeting. Many had questions about the bell schedules which had not been released until that night. Some asked the board to consider reopening school earlier than the Nov. 1 end of the first semester if they are allowed while another asked the district to consider distance learning through the second semester for the sake of consistency.

Some parents and even teachers commented that there has been a lack of information about the planning process that has been underway this summer—parent Heather Dugdale expressed disappointment that parents were not involved in helping to design the distance learning plan.

“In distance learning, our homes are your classrooms and without parent cooperation, engagement and support any plan will struggle,” Dugdale said.

With the district’s plan for reopening now set, Haley said they are planning for more community engagement. They have recently launched new district and school site websites and plan to build new pages to supplement information for the distance learning program. He said they also plan to continue outreach for public input such as with school site councils and other parent groups. A survey in August will also help identify focus areas and students who need additional supports.

“Our community connection points moving forward hopefully will give a sense of connection, guidance and comfort for everyone that has a lot of questions and wants to see what we’re doing,” said SDUHSD President Beth Hergesheimer.

The district is asking for parent, student, and staff input on the new distance learning model via a new Thought Exchange: visit to participate. To view the latest information on the model, visit