Lemon Grove School District prepares for changing circumstances

San Diego County schools’ plans for reopening were halted when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all counties in California on the state’s watchlist were barred from holding in-person classes on July 17. In East County, the Grossmont Union High, Cajon Valley Union, Santee, Alpine and Lakeside Union school districts had already planned to return to in-person schooling, even if it was a hybrid part-time model.

But the Lemon Grove School District is exploring all models to be prepared for the unknown effects of the rising cases of COVID-19 in the county.

Superintendent Erica Balakian of the Lemon Grove School District said the district is taking the stance that until there is a cure or vaccine to address the infections, it needed to prepare for all three instructional phases: full in-person normal operating environment, full distance learning options or a hybrid model. As of now, the district is poised to open Aug. 19.

Balakian said they were settling on the hybrid model with students in class two days a week and online three days. Students would rotate days to minimize social distancing, “bubbling” students together in smaller groups of 10-15 students at a time. She said they were closely monitoring what is happening in the Lemon Grove community in terms of infection rate and any guidance from San Diego County Public Health.

Four weeks ago the district surveyed its parents and more than half wanted their children in school full time, then there was a split between online and hybrid models.

Balakian said when schools shut down over spring break, it already had enough devices in the district to have a one-to-one model for every student, but in preparation had already ordered an additional 750 Chromebooks.

“What we found is that some of our families did not have internet connectivity,” said Balakian. “When we really got into full distance learning, we found that only two-thirds of our students had internet access.”

About 850 students — 25 percent — of Lemon Grove students were doing instructional packet worksheets and about 3 to 4 percent of students the district could not track down.

Balakian said San Diego County Office of Education took the lead to work with Cox Communications, the internet provider for Lemon Grove, and is creating a way for the district to purchase internet access for families. This is paid for through the district’s Cares Act funding.

Balakian said she hears everything from the best to the worst that is happening to students’ families during the pandemic.

“Honestly, I know that parents are super stressed out and I understand why,” said Balakian. “People are losing their jobs and you are with your kids constantly. Normally, kids get to go to school, you get to have your own identity and it is not easy.”

Balakian said it is better for students to be in school, have a routine, retain those relationships with families and teachers.

She said social skills learned at school are almost as important as learning to read and write.

“It is such a stressful time and the burden is on the parents,” said Balakian. “I feel for them like you would not believe. Even though I don’t know what is going to happen with this virus, I still think about the best way to have our kids in school. I have a heart for the families, and I believe we have the responsibility to be there and help them to the greatest extent that we possibly can.”