REGION — Battle lines have been drawn over when and how two local school districts will reopen.
Carlsbad Unified and Vista Unified school districts plan to return, or have already returned, to in-person classes after gaining approval from each board during their meetings on Oct. 14 and 15, respectively.
Both meetings showcased heated exchanges between teachers, classified unions, board members and residents over how to return as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
CUSD middle and high school students will return to class on Nov. 30, overruling a previous decision to hold all middle and school classes virtually until January 2021. VUSD began classes on Oct. 20.
Also, CUSD Trustee Kathy Rallings, who is employed with the California Teachers Association, has negotiated on behalf of the Vista Teachers Association about reopening plans, according to Scott Davison, who is a member of the group Families for Opening Carlsbad Schools, and several Vista parents and teachers.
“No. In fact, standing up for students, educators and parents are shared community interests,” Rallings said, in response to accusations of a conflict of interest. “We must practice consistency and follow through with agreements and decisions previously reached. Teachers must be able to trust their leaders to prioritize a safe and healthy return to school and avoid inconsistent or incoherent policies that undermine that trust.”
The unions have been vocal in their displeasure with returning to in-person sessions, saying the environment is not safe, social distancing efforts are lacking and exposing staff to potential infection of the novel coronavirus.
The VUSD meeting was so contentious, the Vista Teachers Association held a meeting and approved a vote of no confidence against Superintendent Matt Doyle and trustees Rosemary Smithfield and Cipriano Vargas. According to several sources, the vote failed.
Regardless, VTA leaders said the 6-foot distancing cannot be met for students, thus jeopardizing a teacher’s healthy and safety.
Smithfield said the district’s plans have been in place for at least two months and the union knew Oct. 20 was the target date to return, should county and state officials allow schools to reopen, which they have. She added the district has given teachers masks, face shields and plexiglass if they want it and the district requires teachers to maintain a 6-foot distance at all times.
“I’d say it was a small group of teachers that are not happy,” Smithfield said. “We don’t need to drag students into it. We gave parents a choice and we’ve done everything possible we can.”
However, Davison and the group said Rallings is trying to actively sabotage reopening. He said Rallings may be in violation of the board’s own conflict of interest provision in its bylaws and question whether she has the student’s best interests in mind.
Davison and others also question whether Rallings has other individuals’ safety in mind, pointing to comments she’s made over the past several months regarding having remote teachers with campus monitors in the classroom.
She chided Trustee Ray Pearson during the Oct. 14 meeting after he posted on Facebook his position stating he was for reopening schools. Rallings said it could be a violation of the board’s governance, although Davison said Rallings posts political positions, such as being a supporter of Prop. 15, on one of her two Facebook accounts.
Keri Avila, the VTA president, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Lindsey Gordon, president of the Carlsbad Unified Teachers Association, declined to comment.