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Judge grants restraining order to North County parents, overturning pandemic-related school rules

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Posted at 4:19 PM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 02:44:04-04

(KGTV) -- A judge granted a temporary restraining order in favor of a group of North County parents who sued the state in an effort to overturn pandemic-related rules they say prevent school districts from reopening.

Judge Cynthia Freeland said that the state's framework for reopening K-12 schools “is selective in its applicability, vague in its terms, and arbitrary in its prescriptions.”

“With the mental health effects resulting from (or being exacerbated by) remote learning, one can conclude that disparate treatment being experienced by children affected by the January 2021 Framework is depriving those same children of a fundamental benefit of education, namely provision of the necessary tools to help children adjust normally to their environment,” court documents stated.

Earlier in March, the state rejected in-person middle and high school plans for three North County districts including Carlsbad Unified, Poway Unified, and the San Dieguito High School District. The plans were previously approved by San Diego County.

The state approved SDUHSD’s plan “with conditions," but the district said it was unable to reopen with California’s ratio of 15 students to one teacher per class because students have multiple subjects.

"They gave a whole list of specific reasons that had never been part of any reopening requirement, never been part of any set of rules, had never been conveyed to us before that those were requirements for the reopening plan," said Scott Davison, co-director of the Carlsbad chapter of the Parent Association.

San Dieguito sent a letter to parents after the ruling.

Dear San Dieguito Union High School District Community,

Today, Judge Cynthia Freeland, after reviewing written documents and hearing oral arguments, issued an order which allows our district to implement our expanded reopening for in-person, rotating in-class instruction that begins with our one-day-a-week model immediately. Each school site will be sending out a communication to the students who are scheduled to attend tomorrow, March 16, 2021.

We are very excited to share this news with our school district community. We will continue to keep everyone informed and updated.

Robert Haley
Committed to the Future

Poway Unified also sent staff a letter after the ruling.

Dear Poway Unified Staff,

Today, Superior Court Judge Cynthia Freeland overturned the State’s denial of our waiver to expand middle and high school reopening and deemed it unconstitutional for any State guidance to prevent schools from reopening safely. This is great news for PUSD, allowing us to confidently move forward with our phased reopening plans, regardless of our County’s tier status.

Given this new information, all PUSD middle and high schools will move to the two-day-a-week A/B concurrent learning schedule effective Monday, March 22. This week, our one-day-a-week expanded small cohorts by grade levels will continue as planned. Both our students and staff have expressed appreciation for this opportunity to build comfort and confidence around safety protocols and procedures with smaller numbers of on-campus students before bringing all grades back.

On-campus students and their families should already know which cohort (A or B) they are assigned to and what days they are attending in person. Any additional communication regarding next week’s plans to further expand reopening will come from school sites.

Just a note of appreciation: I had the opportunity to visit one of our high school campuses today to see the expansion of our small cohorts and the concurrent learning model in action, and it was such a joy to see more of our secondary students and staff back in our schools again.

I wanted to thank all of the teachers, staff, administrators, and student leaders across PUSD who have made it possible to reopen our schools!

Marian Kim Phelps, Ed.D.

Carlsbad Unified said it's excited to have students back on campus.

As we argued in court this morning, our local health officer previously approved our reopening plans; we're pleased that the judge agreed to set aside the state's denial of our Safety Review Request.

Practically speaking, at this time there's no change to what we announced this weekend. We’re still implementing the middle school and high school return to campus as described in my email on Saturday, March 13, and as subsequently communicated by our principals. (7th, 9th, and 10th graders return tomorrow; and the rest of the grades return on Thursday.) We’re excited to welcome our middle and high school students back to campus.

The Parent Association of North County also responded to the news. “This represents justice for children and families and a beginning to the end of the nightmare waiting for our schools to reopen fully,” said Ginny Merrifield, the Executive Director of the Parent Association of North County.

“We will continue to press for a full reopening of public schools this school year, which is absolutely in the best interests of students statewide," Merrifield continued.

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.