October 27, 2020
Vista Unified has a dual obligation to our community during this challenging time. We are obligated to provide a safe and healthy environment for students and staff, and, at the same time, we are obligated to provide access to engaging, standards-based instruction on campus, in-person as much as possible. During the Vista Classic program implementation, Vista Unified has been careful to keep all of our learning environments safe. Our COVID-19 identification and contact tracing protocol continues to work as designed to proactively seek out, identify any contacts or positive cases on our campuses, and isolate these cases immediately.
San Diego Health Department Visit to Mission Vista High School
Dr. John D. Malone visited the Mission Vista High School campus on Friday, October 23, 2020. Dr. Malone is the Infectious Disease Physician from the Epidemiology and Immunization Services Branch of the San Diego Health and Human Services Department. The purpose of his visit was to follow-up on the quarantining of students as a result of the two students who tested positive for COVID-19.
Dr. Malone’s visit was over two hours long. Jeremy Walden (MVHS Principal), Rachel D’Ambroso (Assistant Superintendent of Human Relations), Craig Wiblemo (Executive Director of Student Services), and I joined him on the visit. He inspected every part of the school including classrooms, outdoor spaces, the gym, locker room, PE and sports fields, the dance room, and offices. We discussed class sizes, air ventilation, social distancing procedures during unstructured time, surface cleaning procedures, and testing.
After over two hours of dialogue about health and safety procedures, I asked him whether or not we should open Vista Classic for in-person learning on campus. His answer was, “Absolutely!” He then added, “Thank you for your courage to do this.” He mentioned that it is normal for some portion of the organization and the community to be fearful of attempting to resume critical social services like education. He stated that the COVID-19 virus will not be going away for a number of years. He said that even when there is a vaccine, there will be many members of the community, including students, that will not take the vaccine initially, prolonging the recovery for the whole community. He provided a number of comments and recommendations during his visit including the importance of washing face masks often, continuing to maximize classroom airflow and ventilation, leveraging outdoor spaces for learning to expand social distancing, engaging the students in cleaning desk tops and other surfaces during the day so that they become part of the solution to combat the virus, and empowering student leaders in building a campaign among their peers to learn how to socially distance during unstructured time in outdoor spaces. Finally, Dr. Malone said that bringing students to campus and expanding testing will identify more cases but will ultimately bring the virus under control in the community through contact tracing and follow-up care.
Health and Safety Status
As we continue to implement the Vista Classic learning model, there will be cases periodically throughout the district of students and staff who have come into close contact with a COVID-19 positive person or who have contracted COVD-19 themselves. We have had four positive cases identified since the first day of Vista Classic instruction on campus: two positive cases at Mission Vista High School, a positive case at Alamosa Park Elementary School, and a positive case at Roosevelt Middle School. Our students and staff are representatives of our community. This is going to be a reality that we are all faced with as the community addresses the spread of the virus. If we are to be successful with the implementation of the Vista Classic learning model, we all must work together to use the COVID-19 Decision Tree and Guidelines as an effective tool to seek out, identify, and isolate possible cases in our schools. There may be situations where one or more schools may need to pivot to the Vista Virtual model to address the challenges of contact tracing. While this would be unfortunate, we are focused on ensuring that we strictly follow the COVID-19 guidelines.
Vista Classic Status
The Vista Classic learning model has brought many students, teachers, and staff members back together in the learning environment that is most natural for building relationships and expanding student engagement. We have seen and heard evidence of sincere happiness and excitement among students, teachers, and staff to be able to reestablish the bonds that make learning magical and meaningful. The visit from the San Diego Health Department served to underscore our commitment to offering Vista Classic in-person learning to students who chose this learning model. These times are indeed challenging, and we may be faced with numerous obstacles to reopening our schools. We will continue to work tirelessly to persevere.
Vista Classic Challenges
It is important to note that during the first week back, we have learned a lot about some of the challenges of reopening for in-person learning. The first challenge has also become a success. That is the effectiveness of our COVID-19 response system for identifying possible cases, isolating them, and notifying our community. However, this response system still remains a challenge because our system is discovering many cases within the community that are being brought to our schools. When we locate COVID-19 positive cases, we are compelled to quarantine large numbers of students and staff. This level of quarantine will have an impact on our ability to maintain a viable Vista Classic model. The second challenge is the increased staffing demands of running two systems - Virtual and Classic. While we have hired an additional twenty learning loss teachers, due to the increase in teachers and staff taking a leave of absence for the school year, calling in absent due to symptoms, posting absences for personal reasons, and having absences due to quarantine, we have had a dramatic rise in the number of substitute teachers and staff required to support students on campus for in-person learning. As other school districts start to implement their in-person learning plans, we have already started to feel a pinch on the availability of substitute teachers and staff. If this trend continues, we will be forced to pivot back to Vista Virtual - not due to the COVID-19 virus, but, rather, due to the lack of available staff to fully support the Vista Classic learning environment. This challenge is most difficult at the high school and middle school level because there are so many more staff members needed to fully implement the in-person programs. The impact on staffing may move down to the elementary level in the near future.
Our school board will reconvene for a Special Board Meeting on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, to review the newest update to San Diego County’s status based on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring system, Blueprint for a Safer Economy. During this meeting, the board will also review the status of the Vista Classic implementation, receive a report on the number of COVID-19 related incidents, and receive an update on the status of the staffing demands to maintain Vista Classic.
Matt Doyle, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Vista Unified School District