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Return to in-person school headed for legal fight in North County

Posted at 5:18 PM, Dec 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 21:19:32-05

ENCINITAS, CALIF. (KGTV) -- The return to in-person instruction for some north county students appears to be in legal limbo.

Friday, the California Teachers Association filed a legal petition on behalf of the union representing the teachers in the San Dieguito Union High School District.

The union wants the district's reopening plan blocked, saying, among other things, it violates the state's public health rules concerning the pandemic.

Last Tuesday, the school board voted to give students the option of returning to in-person instruction five days a week on January 27th. Previously, the board voted to return to campus one day a week beginning January 4th.

Lori Laroque has two boys in eighth grade at Pacific Trails Middle School. She applauds the board's decision.

"I was elated, and this was something that should have happened a long time ago," said Laroque.

Ann Cerny has been teaching U.S History at Earl Warren Middle School for twenty-seven years. She also has a high school daughter in the district.

Cerny says she would love to see kids return to campus, but she says now is not the time.

"Yes, in-person learning is best, but it's not going to be that 2019 in-person situation, and people aren't seeming to accept that reality," said Cerny, who has been teaching remotely from her classroom.

Union leaders estimate up to 20% of teachers won't return if the plan for five days a week in-person instruction goes through.

Cerny says she has concerns about exposure to COVID-19, but that isn't her biggest fear.

"It's the academic chaos that we find ourselves heading towards. I'm just worried that it's not going to roll out well. I'm worried for equity for students. I'm worried for the many, many teachers going out on leave and having subs for classes," said Cerny.

The school board president said the district is actively recruiting for teachers and substitutes.

No one from the board was available to comment on camera, but President Maureen Muir sent 10News a lengthy statement explaining the reopening plan.

"The health and safety of our students and staff is the District's highest priority. The District's Safe Reopening Plan follows the guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health and includes detailed protocols for distancing and ventilation.
Staff will be encouraged to maintain 6 feet of distancing, as practical, from one another at all times, and teacher desks will be at least six feet away from students. Students will maintain distancing as practicable and in compliance with guidance from CDPH, including arranging desks in a manner that minimizes face-to-face contact. We have evaluated all of our classroom spaces and planned to maximize distancing. We have also planned carefully to maximize distancing for students and staff outside of our classrooms, including before, after, and between classes.
The District consulted with ventilation and filtration experts to determine the maximum efficiency our units can handle. MERV 8+ filters were installed in all of our units, which achieves MERV 11 efficiency. Additionally, we purchased and installed HEPA filters in our classrooms, common areas, and offices. We have CO2 sensors in our newer buildings that monitor indoor air quality and we are purchasing more for other spaces.
To ensure the continuity of teaching and learning, the District is allowing teachers who are in a high-risk group, or who have a household member in a high-risk group, to teach from home for the remainder of the second quarter, which ends on January 22, 2021.
We have also informed teachers who have childcare needs due to COVID-19 that they may also work from home during this same time period. The District has made every effort to work with our teachers to keep them safe and to address their concerns about returning to work. The District is continuing to evaluate potential staffing shortages and has been actively recruiting teachers and substitute teachers to address this issue.
The District is aware that the San Dieguito Faculty Association filed a petition for a peremptory writ of mandate on Friday that seeks to prevent the District from providing in-person instruction to students in January. The District is evaluating the claims and will respond to the filing in court,"
Maureen" Mo" Muir. President of the San Dieguito Union High School District

The board will have an emergency closed-door session Tuesday to address the union's legal challenge.

The petition filed seeks to stop the reopening at three of the district's high schools. The union argues in-person instruction did not start at the schools before the county was moved back into the purple tier.

Cerny said the union's legal action is unprecedented.

"We've never needed to do anything this drastic to feel safe and supported in the classroom. It makes me really sad to think about that," said Cerny.

Larocque is hoping her kids will still be able to return to school.

"I'm just putting one foot in front of the other and hoping and praying for a holiday miracle."

No one from the school district responded to requests for comment.