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Haley DiDonato, left, organized a protest consisting of about 200 parents and students on Sept. 23 outside the Carlsbad Unified School District office. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Carlsbad Unified board approves distance learning until January

CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved its plan for distance learning for high school and middle school students through January due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board also approved allowing students on campus for some extracurricular activities and athletic preparation during its hours-long Sept. 23 meeting. Elementary school students, meanwhile, will return to class as part of a hybrid model, which calls for students on campus two-days per week.

During the meeting, about 200 residents, including students, protested outside the district’s office in an effort to sway the Board to return to in-person school. But a day after the meeting, Board President Veronica Williams said she received a threat leading to an investigation by the Carlsbad Police Department.

Also, Superintendent Ben Churchill reported at least two staff members tested positive from Sept. 4 through Sept. 18 and another 10 were in quarantine. Eleven of the cases were from Jefferson Elementary School and one at Hope Elementary School.

“I really, really struggled with this decision,” Williams said. “I really want them back in the classroom. This one-day option that was presented was not viable. To me, this was the first step to get the middle and high school kids back to the school, even though it’s not ideal.”

With the new plan in place, she said it addresses the emotional, social and academic components, saying by at least allowing some in-person clubs and activities in small “cohorts” will help the students. Also, in-person office hours will be increased, along with emotional support groups, Williams said.

“My concern is how do we ensure that all these students are connected?” she added. “I did a call for action for students to create a club … for any reason to make sure our students are connected.”

The Board is also forming an ad hoc committee, consisting of Williams and Kathy Rallings, to share more information than presented by staff. Williams said the committee will help with presenting a more viable in-person option.

However, those parents protesting and pushing back said the District should’ve opened its doors, especially as the state has changed its accounting of COVID-19 cases by using adjusted metrics.

Parent Haley DiDonato, who has two kids in the district, organized the rally and said schools can operate safely, saying Poway and Encinitas have both opened. She said by following county health and safety mandates would allow for those who want to return to do so, while others can do virtual learning at Carlsbad Seaside Academy.

She said younger kids, those 8 and under, are supposedly the least at risk and are the ones who need teachers the most and on a daily basis.

“Preschools, daycare/childcare and camps have all been running successfully with safety precautions in place for the past several months,” she said. “Public schools should be doing the same or our children. Education is essential. All other essential businesses have figured out safe ways of re-opening. There is a 100% online option for those families or teachers who don’t feel safe in person; there should also be an option for families/teachers who want/need to go back in person.”