ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District board of trustees is not quite ready for a return to in-person meetings amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This week, the San Dieguito school board voted to extend virtual board meetings for at least another month due to the latest omicron surge based on Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward’s recommendation.
“I see that emotions still run very high around everything to do with COVID and so I would just say wait just a couple of months until things calm down just a little bit,” James-Ward said.
The board voted 4-1, with Trustee Julie Bronstein the lone vote against, to remain in virtual meetings for 30 more days.
The Encinitas City Council has been conducting in-person meetings now for months, as the SDUHSD board of trustees is well aware. Earlier this month, Ward and the school board attended a council meeting following a racist graffiti incident at San Dieguito Academy over the holiday break.
“They definitely have hot topics there,” Trustee Katrina Young said of the in-person meeting. “It was calm. It was respectful. I felt safe.”
Young, who eventually opted to continue the virtual meetings until the current surge of COVID-19 has settled, also mentioned an incident involving the Poway Unified School District late last year when the board there was forced to return to virtual meetings out of an abundance of caution for the safety of its board members.
“We are always going to have parents who have questions or concerns and they will express them to us and they should but I don’t see the emotion as strong as it was before,” Young said.
School Board President Mo Muir disagreed with the sentiment, saying parents’ passion can still lead to a contentious meeting, something it appears the board would like to avoid.
“These are kids, they are people’s children. And it will get contentious because it’s the most important thing in their life. So I think you should expect that,” Muir said.
The school district has reaffirmed its commitment to keeping students in the classroom by avoiding a return to virtual learning, a move the board feels is only a last resort. To that end, Bronstein said the board should be keeping the same rules for themselves.
“We have such a commitment, this board, to in-person instruction and at this point, I also have a personal philosophy that I have a personal commitment to in-person board meetings in order to make sure that we are as accessible as possible,” Bronstein said.
Previously, the board has experienced issues with public comments, prompting the body to change the rules for public speaking in an effort to keep meetings shorter, according to the district.
Some parents during comment periods have questioned the timing of meetings, some of which occur during school hours, which keeps students and faculty from participating.