SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – The San Jose Unified School District announced that distance learning will continue through at least the end of December 2020, saying conditions continue to remain unsafe for in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to make as a district because we know in-person instruction is the best way to serve our students, and we are deeply disappointed that the conditions in our community do not allow us to safely bring our students back to school campuses,” superintendent Nancy Albarran said in a statement Wednesday night.

The superintendent said the decision followed surveying the community, along with consulting health officials, labor groups and county data on transmission of the coronavirus.

The district, which is the largest in San Jose, has more than 30,000 students in 41 schools.

Albarran announced the extension of distance learning one month into the new school year and a week after Santa Clara entered the “red tier” under the state’s reopening plan, which paves the way for schools to reopen.

Even though indoor gatherings are still prohibited, there is an exemption for schools. Technically, according to state guidelines, K through 12 schools could reopen as soon as September 21st.

District officials say there is no way they can do that in good conscience.

“Indoor gatherings are prohibited. We can’t rationalize bringing 30 students back into the classroom,” said SJUSD Deputy Superintendent Stephen McMahon. “We need to make sure the community around us is ready for indoor gatherings and our schools will be running at the same time.”

Other key factors to continue distance learning included case counts that continue to exceed levels seen when schools were forced to close in March, along with “substantial” community spread of the coronavirus. Albarran was also concerned about testing and contact tracing, which she called “inadequate.”

“We want them back. We just need to make sure it’s safe. And right now, the pandemic has not given us evidence that we can bring our students back to campus safely,” said McMahon.

Along with those factors, the superintendent also noted that most parents, students and faculty wanted a consistent plan through at least the end of the semester.

“We do not want to go back and forth with 28,000 students and families It’s disruptive to our parents, it’s disruptive to our staff. Once we make the decision to open, we need to be able to stay the course,” said McMahon.

With distance learning extended, Albarran announced several adjustments, including equipment upgrades and reducing screen time. San Jose Unified said it was also in discussions with the teacher’s association to provide a stipend for educators to purchase what they need to better facilitate distance learning.

Parent Rich Sutton said his wife — who is a teacher in the district — worked for free for much of the summer preparing for distance learning, as did her colleagues.

“Probably averaging 30, 40 ,50 hours, all summer without getting paid,” said Sutton.

Sutton and his wife have a son who is a student in the district. He agreed it would be disruptive for students to return to school and then go back to remote learning due to an outbreak.

“It will be detrimental to learning because the learning would get interrupted,” said Sutton. “There needs to be minimal bumps.”

SJUSD Parent Jenny Ingram was actually on her way to deliver coffee to a teacher. She was hopeful students would return to classrooms sooner.

“I’m really ready; ready for them to go back,” said Ingram.

When asked if she thought the district was making the right decision, she replied, “I’m hesitant to answer, because I’m not in their shoes. That’s easy to give an easy answer for other people. I know that they’re doing their best.”

Kiet Do contributed to this story.

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