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Back to the Board | Frances Chai

On March 24th, the San Dieguito Union High School District held a board meeting. The first portion of the meeting before the closed session saw public comments from concerned SDUHSD parents and community members regarding reopening plans and, more specifically, the litigation filed by North County Parents. According to the San Diego Union Tribune article titled, “North County parents sue state to overturn school reopening rules”, a group of public school parents from this county sued Governor Gavin Newsom in hopes of revoking school reopening rules that have prevented some districts from reopening, thus leading them to deem said rules unfair and detrimental to the mental health of their children. According to this article, these parents are also calling to “overturn rules that require a minimum four-feet distance between students in classrooms and that require students learn in stable groups rather than change classes.” Earlier this month, a judge ruled in favor of this group of parents. According to a KPBS article covering this development, “the temporary restraining order issued by San Diego Superior Court Judge Cynthia Freeland prohibits the state from enforcing the provisions of its January framework for reopening schools…” One SDUHSD parent who gave a public comment on this agenda item referred to the litigation’s plan as “hyperbolic and frantic.” Another commented that “just because counsel tells you it may be legal, it doesn’t mean it is good for our students.” There was a lot of concern for the possibility of students having to quarantine due to cases on campus, leading to them missing sports games, theatre performances, AP exams, and graduation. According to some of the public comments made, there have already been positive COVID cases on SDUHSD campuses back when students were on campus in small cohorts (before the two-day a week, letter group model). The concern is that having more students on campus, coupled with a more relaxed, less-than-six-feet social distancing plan, will result in more cases.

After hearing from public comments on this agenda item, the board moved to a closed session. Instead of the typical blank screen and “Meeting will resume at _ _:_ _ pm” message, video clips of student art, dance and musical performances, promotions for school bands, and a segment showing the process of COVID testing student athletes played on the screen. After a while, the closed session ending time was extended from 6:30pm to 7:30 pm. Around 7:30pm, it was extended again for 30 minutes. We can only hope that with all the extra time, the board members were as productive as the students have been (as clearly shown by the aforementioned video clips displayed on the screen).

At 8:00pm, the board members finally returned from the closed session. More public comments brought up other concerns of the community, such as allowing students to continue learning online in the fall to mitigate any anxieties surrounding returning to in-person learning and prevent students from coming to campus with symptoms. One SDUHSD teacher spoke about the concerns of teachers and their tireless work this year to educate students. They mentioned that teachers were only given a one business day’s notice to transition from a one-day-a-week model to a two-day-a-week model –– going against the teachers’ suggestion of holding off the latter reopening plan until after spring break.

Another parent mentioned that the distance-learning model needs to remain strong to maintain the equity of education, bringing up that preparing for AP exams is of the utmost importance this year with the way UC admissions have been going.

There were also public comments made by parents and community members advocating for the other side. One said that schools should “open to the fullest extent possible” to protect student mental wellness. Another cited that five days of in-person school is necessary to make up for the lost instructional time that has been replaced with heavy workloads and asynchronous learning.

At the end of the meeting, the resolution for consideration and approval at the next special board meeting (March 29th at 5pm) was an opportunity for students to attend four days a week starting April 12th and five days a week starting the first day of the 2021-2022 school year. This was moved to motion by Trustees Mossy, Young, and Allman, and later these three trustees, along with Mo Muir, voted yes on the motion.

Although these board meetings can run late into the night and also potentially cause you to lose hope in the adult leadership of this school district, I would recommend tuning in –– especially when the matters being discussed are as important as reopening schools.

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