Encinitas schools expand reopening to five days a week

Mission Estancia students celebrate being back at school five days a week.

It felt like the first day of school again on April 12 when Encinitas Union School District students returned for five days a week of in-person school.

“The celebrations were all over,” said Superintendent Andrée Grey at the board’s April 13 meeting of the mascots, balloons, posters and teachers making sure all students felt welcome. “The upbeat feeling on campuses was inspiring for everyone that was there.”

Students were ready to come back and reconnect with friends in the other half of their cohorts after attending school just two days a week since the beginning of the school year. It felt like forever until the district was able to reach this point and as Grey said in a message to families: “No one said they missed being on Zoom.”

The district added staffing to lower class sizes and be able to space accordingly as 91% of district students have opted to come back in-person. Outdoor spaces are also still being utilized.

“I’m proud that our families are trusting and are confident in our safety measures but our numbers at our schools are something we consider when look at how we make sure we are following all of the appropriate mitigation strategies,” Grey said.

In order to maximize in-person learning and get students on campus five days a week, Encinitas students attend school from 8 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., a shortened day from the pre-COVID schedule of 8 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., without students eating lunch on campus. During public comment, several parents said while they are happy, grateful and excited for kids to be back at school more days, they questioned why students weren’t able to return for a full day.

“It’s a bit irrational and unjustifiable to maintain the short day schedule,” said Jennifer Harris, an Olivenhain Pioneer parent. Harris said parents were advised to send at least two snacks for children to eat during the day: “If they can eat snacks two times a day I think they can eat lunch too.”

With the numbers of students back at schools, Grey said lunch time is the most vulnerable time for students as they are maskless. Some school sites would need six to eight separate lunch times to be able to physically distance and that would cut further into instructional time. The shortened school day allows the district to meet all of the instructional needs and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) requirements. Additionally, the afternoons also provide an opportunity to address teacher needs, such as planning and supporting students at home who are quarantining, Grey said.

A welcome back sign at Park Dale Lane.

Board member Gregg Sonken thanked the superintendent and staff for their “absolutely terrific” job in bringing students back more days but he said he still believes the district should be doing more.

“These kids have had it tough, they’ve had it brutal. They adore their schools, they cherish their teachers, they love being with their friends and for them to be able to come back now it’s so marvelous. That being said, I’m still struggling why we’re not back full time,” Sonken said. “We’re a district of problem-solvers, we can figure out this lunch piece.”

While board members said they understood parent frustrations and the desire to move faster, they supported the current schedule as it offered consistency, following the guidelines while allowing them to have as much in-person learning as they can. With the end of this unprecedented school year on the horizon, board President Emily Andrade said they should keep up best practices.

“The last thing we want is to have to step back again,” Andrade said. “Let’s keep moving forward.”

For fall 2021, Grey said that the plan is for the district to return to a full pre-COVID schedule and a more typical school experience, “Barring any completely unforeseen circumstance, we will be open in August like we were when we opened in 2019-20,” Grey said.

Looking ahead to next year, parent Liz Ingle urged the district to consider employing the minimal amount of mitigation strategies.

“We need to prioritize returning our kids to a more normal childhood and school experience as quickly as possible and there are safe ways to do that,” Ingle said. “We need to figure out how to prioritize them and their social and emotional wellbeing now that we’re moving out of the fear stage of the virus.”

Grey said the district will be required to follow the CDPH guidance but she expects that safety requirements for schools will be lessened due to diminishing cases and lower risk of transmission. As of right now they are anticipating facial coverings and distancing to continue through the end of the school year.

“As that guidance changes we are able to refine and make adjustments to our safety plans,” Grey said.

Aspire program eliminated, new childcare provider selected

At the April 15 meeting, the Encinitas Union School District board voted to eliminate its before and after school childcare program for the 2021-22 school year, which included the layoffs of 43 employees. The district’s ASPIRE program will be replaced with a program from an outside vendor, Right at School.

ASPIRE (Allowing Students to Prosper In Recreation and Education) was available for parents from 6:30 a.m. before school began and until 6 p.m. after school ended. According to Angelica Lopez, assistant superintendent of administrative services, given operational challenges and evaluating the needs for the coming school year, the district decided to no longer operate an internal program.

Lopez said the district was committed to engaging with quality childcare providers that would be able to use the district facilities to serve Encinitas families before and after school. On April 20, the district announced they had approved an agreement with the Right at School organization. Right at School has been approved to utilize facilities for its program at all EUSD school sites, with the exception of Ocean Knoll and Capri. (The Boys & Girls Club operates at Ocean Knoll and the YMCA operates at Capri to offer before and after-school care to families.)

A virtual parent information night on Right to School will be held on April 28 at 6 p.m.

ASPIRE will continue to operate through the end of the school year. The law requires the district to give employees a 60-day notice of a layoff. Lopez said two ASPIRE employees have already been hired into other district openings.