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San Dieguito protests schools
250 students and families gathered at the San Dieguito Union High School District office on September 24 in Encinitas to protest the district’s decision to continue a distance learning schedule through January 22nd. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg
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San Dieguito reinstates ‘reopening committee’ in response to protests

ENCINITAS — San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) will re-establish an expanded public “reopening committee” in response to protests by parents and students demanding in-person learning and improved communication between the district and families.

On September 24, a protest organized by SDUHSD families and students erupted outside the district office in Encinitas following the school board’s September 17 decision to continue full-time distance learning through January 2021.

Currently, with the exception of select groups of students, including special education and English language learners, the general student population is not allowed on campuses.

The full meeting can be viewed on the SDUHSD’s Youtube and nearly 100 public comments by families and community members that can be read here.

Karri Smith, mother of twin boys at Canyon Crest Academy, organized last week’s protest with several other mothers, attracting close to 250 parents and students carrying handmade signs.

“I am passionate about this because I love my kids, I love my community and I am upset with what prolonged distance learning is doing to them,” Smith told the Coast News. “Staring at a screen for that long each day is difficult for them.

“There’s no reason in this day and age that [the district] couldn’t have communicated better with families or faster. People were asking their teachers and some of those teachers weren’t even aware.”

San Dieguito school protests
Protesters leave their signs on the doorstep of the San Dieguito Union High School District office building on September 24 in Encinitas. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg

What began as a text thread among concerned parents quickly spread to Facebook groups and culminated with the creation of the Instagram account, “SDUHSD Community for Change.

Superintendent Dr. Robert Haley spoke to the Coast News about the recent outcry from parents and students about the reopening plans.

“I empathize with all parents and students,” Haley said. “Our community has a variety of perspectives on how we should move forward and I think all voices should be heard.

“Our distance learning model does incorporate on-campus learning and through the next month we will continue to bring more students on campus, where we have select students already, with an instructional model that’s flexible and can meet (California Department of Public Health) guidelines.”

However, Haley expressed some hesitance about whether the district would publish a future schedule for families.

“We have somewhat resisted doing that because we’ve seen other districts do so and then not be able to follow through, rescind it, or change it,” Haley said. “We’re trying to give schools as much support from the district level while also giving our campus principals flexibility.”

“At this point in time, we don’t have a timeline of what this will all look like,” Haley said.

Haley noted that sports and extra-curricular activities have been especially challenging due to rules and regulations imposed on San Diego County schools. However, he believes the district has found a workaround for students.

“As we progress through the month of October, there will be more and more opportunities for students to be on campus, and yes, when we talk about ‘students’ we know that all students need that opportunity,” Haley said.

On the evening of October 1, the school district sent an email to families announcing an “expanded reopening committee including parents, teachers, students, district and school administrators, support personnel board members, and medical professionals.”

All five district high school principals and two middle school principals will also participate.

The “initial purpose of [the] committee will be to review the current distance learning model, review other models being implemented across the state, explore opportunities for on-campus activities, and explore options for a safe increase in student access to campuses,” the statement reads.

According to the district, the committee will meet weekly, but it remains unclear whether the committee will have any authority to make official decisions beyond discussing and providing public input.

Families discouraged by the lack of the district’s commitment to an in-person learning timeline have repeatedly drawn comparisons to other school districts, asking, “If they can open again, why can’t we?” and “How do families move forward?”

During the protest, Smith noted this is an election year, and at the very least, parents have one option.

“We have an opportunity to make some changes in our community,” Smith said. “We could put some parents that actually have students in the district on the school board right now.”