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Return to in-person learning in jeopardy for some North County students

Posted at 5:38 PM, Dec 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-22 21:42:48-05

ENCINITAS, Calif. (KGTV)- School leaders in a north county school district are trying to figure out how to address a legal petition filed by their teachers' union.

The San Dieguito Union High School District Board of Trustees held an emergency closed-door meeting Tuesday at Earl Warren Middle School in Solana Beach.

A few dozen students and some parents gathered outside the school to protest the district's plan to return to in-person instruction in January.

"Our teachers have taught us to stand up for what's right, and we see that the board is not listening to their needs, their concerns, they're putting their lives at risk, so we are here to support our teachers," said student Andrea Gately.

Parent Julie Bronstein said distance learning is not ideal, but she doesn't think it's safe for kids to return when the virus is surging.

"Why can't we just wait a bit more, get ourselves out of the danger zone, get beyond the surge, make sure teachers are able to be vaccinated to the extent possible, and then reopen in a grander fashion," said Bronstein.

Late last Tuesday night, the San Dieguito Union High School District Board of Trustees voted to give students the option to return to school one day a week on January 4th, then five days a week for in-person instruction on January 27th.

Parents like Jane Woltman say students should have returned to class months ago.

"When they asked if kids wanted to go back full time in October, 80% of those parents said yes, yet we didn't go back then. We weren't in the purple tier then," said Woltman.

Woltman has two kids at La Costa Canyon High School.

"I just think the social well being of kids is diminishing. Kids are losing engagement, and basically, this is a teaching model that was not intended to be long term," said Woltman.

Friday, the California Teachers Association filed a legal petition on behalf of the local teachers' union to block the January return.

Duncan Brown is a counselor at Diegueno Middle School and Oak Crest Middle School. He's also the president of the San Dieguito Faculty Association. He says the district's plan violates the governor's regional stay at home order.

"It goes against CDC guidelines, it goes against CDPH rules, most districts have reconsidered reopening plans, but San Dieguito continues to move forward," said Brown.

Under the state's health mandate, schools that were already open for in-person instruction were allowed to stay open when the county fell back into the purple tier. The union is challenging the district's definition of what is considered an open school.

"All the instruction is done through small cohorts, and we believe the intent of the reopening plan was if grades were going through a reopening. For example, 9th and 10th grade were invited back, then under those kinds of understandings, 11th and 12th graders would be able to continue the reopening as well," said Brown.

Parents who believe kids should be back in school say the union is just delaying things.

"I just think it's a stall tactic, and the union doesn't want to go back period. I don't think that's the voice of a lot of teachers who are afraid of ramifications if they speak up," said Woltman.

The board president says the district's reopening plan follows the guidance issued by The California Department of Public Health and includes detailed protocols for distancing and ventilation.

Teachers in high-risk groups for the virus or with childcare issues can continue teaching remotely until January 27th, but the district hasn't decided beyond that.