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Celeste Talbot
Sarah Talbot’s daughter, Celeste, is among the roughly 200 Cardiff Elementary students unable to return to in-person lessons due to an ongoing legal battle between Save the Park and the Cardiff School District. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg
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Legal battle forces Cardiff Elementary to delay in-person classes

ENCINITAS — Approximately 200 kindergarten and first-grade students at Cardiff Elementary will be prohibited from attending school on September 14 as a result of the latest fallout in a legal battle between Cardiff School District and local organization, Save the Park.

In a press release sent to families on Friday, September 4, the District outlined the areas of construction, now unfinished due to a preliminary injunction granted on July 20, prevent students from safely attending in-person learning.

Such areas include the “entry driveway and fire lane, student drop-off/pick-up area, and the only ADA accessible walkway to access 8 of the ten current classrooms and the only set of student restrooms currently available on campus,” writes the District.

Families and friends of the 200 students sounded off on social media over the Labor Day weekend, upset that the long-winded legal battle, no longer the pandemic, is now forcing families into distance learning at home.

Cardiff Elementary parent and single mother, Sarah Talbot, spoke to the Coast News, expressing her anger and frustration over the school’s latest setback.

“It’s been devastating for my family and my children,” Talbot said. “We’re all upset. We’ve all been struggling to make distance learning work since this spring. We need the kids at school even it’s just a partial day. The things that people have said and done over this school… this entire thing has gotten so twisted.”

Cardiff Elementary
Cardiff School District is requesting special clearance from the courts to complete the construction of its ADA accessible walkway. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg

Talbot, like many other parents, has actively followed the legal battle between STP and the district from the beginning and personally believes the motives behind STP’s entire lawsuit and premise are “superficial and out of spite.”

With this latest development impacting families who secured plans for in-person learning, emotions and tensions are running an all-time high among those impacted.

On multiple occasions, Eleanor Musick, a Save the Park representative, has publicly denied the group’s purpose is to save local homeowners’ ocean views, instead stating the lawsuit is based on the district’s own legal failings and inability to maintain CEQA requirements.

With the settlement of the first lawsuit between Save the Park and the District in March followed by the National Park Service’s boundary approval in May, families assumed their children would be attending in-person classes beginning in the fall.

However, a second lawsuit alleging impropriety against the same respondents has left many parents with a feeling of uncertainty.

“This second lawsuit is incredibly disappointing,” Talbot said. “And now, they’re denying children an in-person education, out of spite? I don’t know of a better way to describe this. Who does this?”

How did we get here? And who is to blame?

According to interviews and legal documents provided to the Coast News by both the Cardiff School District and Save the Park, both parties believe the other is directly to blame for students’ inability to attend school on September 14.

In separate interviews with The Coast News, the District claims Save the Park knowingly blocked the limited construction projects required to provide children a safe and ADA-accessible learning environment for in-person instruction.

Conversely, Save the Park claims the District never informed them that in-person classes would be postponed without the required ADA construction.

Cardiff Elementary School
Pictured is a playground and grass park on the newly remodeled Cardiff Elementary’s campus. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg

The Coast News has included links to 9 recently filed court documents displaying the timeline of recent events in an effort to explain exactly how Cardiff Elementary school got here.

Once San Diego County schools were given the option of opening their doors, U.S. District Court Judge Larry C. Burns reached out to both parties requesting additional information on August 18 seeking to possibly lift the injunction.

Based on the documents available, the District informed Save the Park and the Court that without lifting the injunction and incomplete construction on select elements of the campus design plan, students could not safely access 8 of the 10 available classrooms, endangering the September 14 start date.

Save the Park acknowledged this belief in writing on August 24, specifically stating it did not agree with the assessment itself, though Musick told the Coast News, “Nowhere in any of the information or briefs it filed did the District disclose to the Court that the parking lot and walkway were so essential that the school could not reopen by the planned date of September 14 if they were not completed.”

On August 31, Burns chose not to lift the preliminary injunction, despite having read both the District’s declarations from Superintendent Jill Vinson and Cardiff Elementary School Principal Julie Parker stating the September 14 start date would be otherwise postponed.

Burns chose to defer the decision to the National Park Service, who in turn delayed their decision to September 11 in order to process “additional information” obtained in recent weeks.

Cardiff Elementary School
Local organization Save the Park has sued Cardiff School District twice in an effort to preserve what they believe is a destruction of the “open fields” at Cardiff Elementary. Pictured above is roughly half of the grassy park originally planned by the District. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg

With no solution to be found in the courts, the District reached out to Save the Park on September 2 seeking a last-minute agreement allowing the two construction elements they believe necessary to safely begin school on the planned date.

Save the Park did not explicitly say yes or no, responding instead, “We refer to the Court which has jurisdiction over its order,” effectively ending any opportunity of behind the scenes cooperation between the two feuding entities and postponing in-person instruction.

On September 8, Cardiff School District filed an official declaration to the Court informing them of the decision to postpone all in-person education as a result of the lingering preliminary injunction and NPS’s delayed approval.

In an email to The Coast News, Musick defended the organization’s position:

“The District submitted no declarations by any contractors or inspectors to support a position that these features were critical to reopening. There was no objection by Save the Park to opening the school at any time, nor was there any objection by the Court,” Musick wrote, suggesting the District made the choice to halt in-person classes on their own.

Children and families carry the weight of the lawsuit

Cardiff Elementary School Principal Julie Parker detailed the staff and families’ frustrations over a legal battle during a pandemic.

“We had our COVID-19 protocols in place and we were ready,” Parker said, “but we just can’t have kids on campus if they can’t safely access our classrooms and get picked up safely.”

“It’s been very disappointing and frustrating for families, especially working families who were counting on being able to get back to a schedule, told their employers they could return to work on the 14th or made new arrangements with babysitters and nannies. They’ve had to completely shift gears, again, and it is unfair.”

“They want this resolved. That’s the bottom line, they want their kids in school,” Parker said.

On September 11, NPS is expected to announce a decision that will either further postpone in-person education or allow construction on continue as planned.

1 comment

Iben September 14, 2020 at 5:17 pm

The District spent over $800,000 on lawyers and they keep LOSING??

Amateur Hour!

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