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San Dieguito Union High School District Board voted 3-2 to fully reopen full-time, on-campus instruction by Jan. 27. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg
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San Dieguito Union High School District board votes to fully reopen by Jan. 27

ENCINITAS — In the midst of a record-breaking number of COVID-19 cases, the San Dieguito Union High School District board voted 3-2 to resume full-time, on-campus instruction for 13,123 students starting on Jan. 27.

Despite warnings from Superintendent Robert Haley and assistant superintendents of Curriculum and Human Resources, district board trustees Maureen “Mo” Muir, Melisse Mossy and newest appointee Mike Allman voted to implement an “expanded reopening plan.”

Board trustees Kristin Gibson and newly elected Katrina Young voted against the resolution.

According to the adopted proposal, “unless specifically ordered otherwise by an applicable public health order issued directly to the district by county or state, the Governing Board determines and directs that all district schools should be open for on-campus instruction for students who desire to participate on a full-time basis beginning on the first day of the third quarter of the school year, January 27, 2021.”

The newly instituted “expanded reopening plan,” an update to the existing Safe Reopening Plan established earlier in the year, prompted over 140 public comments from parents and community members, of which only 10 were read aloud.

“We’re going to do [this] carefully and methodically and professionally. We’re not just going to throw kids back on campus,” Mossy said.

Gibson and Young disagreed, along with administrative staff, saying they felt the district was unprepared to accept the entire student body back on January 27.

The plan will go into effect on January 4, with students returning to campuses one day per week, with four days of distancing learning. On January 27, all students will have the option of returning to campuses five days a week.

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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

In accordance, the district will also require all faculty to return to classrooms full-time, rebuking an official cease and desist letter from the California Teachers Association on December 9, stating the San Dieguito Faculty Association’s vehement opposition.

Allman, a first-time school board trustee, authored the original expanded reopening plan, designating himself the board’s sole spokesperson on all COVID-19 matters. However, the plan was ultimately rewritten determining the entire board represents the district’s COVID-19 plan.

Allman, who won his district seat by 326 votes among 17,744 votes cast, also suggested the district hire a San Diego law firm at $350 an hour to handle future legal battles as well as enact the “Rosenberg’s Rules of Order,” consolidating authority to the board chair, though both resolutions were ultimately denied.

Through the course of the meeting, the board heard opinions from four physicians — emergency medicine specialist, pediatrician, cardiologist, and oncologist — who split 2-2 in regards to whether it was safe to institute the January reopening schedule.

The district also heard the opinions of student representatives from San Dieguito High School Academy and Canyon Crest Academy, who both opposed the expanded reopening plan.

Following the student’s comments, new trustees Allman and Young disagreed on the value of student’s opinions.

“I would propose that we have a discussion right now about the value of ASP student’s opinions,” Allman said. “I think the value that they provided in what we have to decide is very near zero. These are young kids and this is a serious topic.”

Young disagreed saying, “They gather consensus from their schools. It’s their job to bring input from their schools here so I would say that they don’t just speak for themselves, they’re speaking for their community with guidance from their peers.”

Duncan Brown, president of the San Dieguito Faculty Association, spoke to The Coast News after the meeting, reiterating the association’s dismay with not only the resolution but also the manner in which the final vote occurred.

“The vote felt rushed,” Brown said. “Mr. Allman bullied his way through to pass that resolution as time was expiring at the end of the night without giving time for an honest dialogue.”

In a written statement, Brown further elaborated on his feelings about the school board’s vote:

“The recent school board decision is alarming, with potentially catastrophic consequences. Under these circumstances, there is no practical way to maintain social distancing in or out of the classrooms.  Our campuses will not be able to facilitate this model safely.  

“Students will crowd into classrooms, into hallways during passing periods  — some of our schools have indoor hallways with 15 classes attached – and they will all be together during lunch.

“I have been a counselor for 30 years, 23 within this district, and I have seen the majority of students adapt and some even thrive on this model.  I believe the real reason the school board majority made this decision was to pander to party politics.”

Ultimately, the San Dieguito Union High School District board was unable to complete its entire intended agenda and will return to complete discussions Thursday, Dec. 17 at 5 p.m. The meeting will be aired Live through the district’s website.

The district has yet to provide the Dec. 15 board meeting available for public review.