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North County parents unite to try to get public schools open

Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 20:52:08-05

ENCINITAS, Calif. (KGTV) — Parents in San Diego's north county are coming together to try to get students back in class as quickly as possible.

Christine Silcox has two kids at La Costa Canyon High School.

"They're full-on tethered to their computer, hours at a time during the day, zombies in front of a computer," said Silcox.

Silcox said the isolation is wearing on them.

"They have very little interaction with their peers online because it's super hard. They are teenagers, OK, they don't want to interact with each other this way, it's like pulling teeth," she said.

Ginny Merrifield doesn't have kids in the district anymore, but she still helped form the Parent Association of North County.

"I know what these parents are missing, it breaks my heart. I've heard stories, dozens of dozens who have called me off the website, who wanted to share stories of their children who are depressed or doing self-harm. There's just some really tragic stories and it's going to take some time," said Merrifield.

The association was formed in December and continues to grow. The group represents families in the San Dieguito Union High School District, as well as students in the Carlsbad, Vista, Oceanside, San Marcos, Poway, and Encinitas districts.

"Parents really don't know how school districts work, how they make decisions, what barriers there are to engaging parents in the policy," said Merrifield.

The group aims to be a voice for the students.

"Our message is students first, we have to have our school districts focus on the needs of students, it can't be an or, teachers or students, but students, their needs have not been met in distance learning," said Merrifield.

The California Teachers Association says teachers should be vaccinated before returning to the classroom. The association filed a lawsuit on behalf of a local union to stop the return to in-person instruction while the county is in the purple tier.

"Parents don't want their children to go back to campuses that are not safe either, so we do need to make the campuses safe, but we can't negotiate to the lowest common denominator of fear and risk, we have to balance that with the needs of students," said Merrifield.

Ann Cerny has been teaching virtually from her classroom at Earl Warren Middle School. She said the voice of parents is always important, but she thinks the group has been operating in a counterproductive way.

"I have some issues with this particular parent organization that I feel on social media has established themselves as a group that is addressing this in a way that is very much attacking teachers and the union," said Cerny.

She welcomes the attention on public education but thinks the focus should be broader.

"Maybe it's working with the Boys and Girls club or other organizations to get other ways for students to get the things they are really missing, which is that socialization," said Cerny.

California has opened vaccinations to teachers, but San Diego County hasn't yet, due to supply.

"I would love to have had parents say, let's use PTAs and lobby the governor to get us in the front of the line for vaccines," said Cerny.

Merrifield says the group is not against teachers, but parents are worried about their kids.

"Parents are frustrated. They're coming from a place of pain, they're seeing their children, as one parent said, crumble from the inside out," said Merrifield.

Cerny added that just because safety measures have been ordered, they may not all have been installed.

"I just got the second HEPA filter that assures that there is enough air circulation in my room, I just got that two weeks ago," Cerny said.

Teachers are also worried about the increasing number of cases of the COVID-19 variants.

"There are variants out there that are much more transmissible, people are talking about masking, indoors is so much more dangerous than it was just a couple of months ago," said Cerny.

Schools that were not already open for regular in-person instruction when the county fell back into the purple tier are not allowed to open while in the most restrictive tier.

"This is an enormously complex problem, that we are trying to fix, we need to fix it together," said Merrifield.