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High school students gathered on Dec. 17 at Earl Warren middle School in Solana Beach to protest San Dieguito Union High School District's reopening plans. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Teachers union files lawsuit against San Dieguito Union High School District

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated from its original version. 

ENCINITAS — A local teachers union filed a lawsuit against San Dieguito Union High School District on Dec. 18 in Superior Court, hoping to overturn the school board’s recent decision allowing for a complete return to in-person instruction by late January.

The petition, filed by the California Teachers Association’s legal department on behalf of San Dieguito Faculty Association (SDFA), seeks to block reopening at Canyon Crest, La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines high schools.

The legal filing comes as San Diego County spirals deeper into the state’s purple tier of COVID-19 guidelines, with public health officials reporting 3,493 new infections as of Saturday, according to staff and wire reports.

“The ultimate goal for us is to not reopen while we are in the purple tier and for (the school board) to reconsider its Jan. 27 proposal,” Duncan Brown, president of SDFA, told The Coast News. “Teachers want to come back onto campus and they want to teach our students in-person learning, there is no question about that. Our teachers are some of the best in the county — they are passionate about what they do, they love our students. We just want to return safely.”

The complaint alleges the district’s reopening plan violates both Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive orders and California Department of Public Health’s guidelines, threatening the “health and safety” of students, teachers, faculty and “community-at-large.”

According to the state health department’s “School Reopening Framework,” which sets the rules for when school districts may reopen, in-person operations are permitted only if the “county satisfies the eligibility requirements for schools” to reopen, which requires remaining in the state’s red tier for at least 14 days.

However, schools operating only under “Cohorting Guidance,” meaning small groups of 10 students or less, are not considered “open” for in-person instruction under the state’s framework and may not expand in-person instruction.

SDUHSD student protest
Danielle Moraga and Delaney Hall, students at Torrey Pines High School, draw signs on Dec.17 in a protest against San Dieguito Union High School District’s reopening plans. Photo by Steve Puterski

Additionally, the lawsuit claims the board’s Dec. 15 resolution ignores the terms of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the district and San Dieguito Faculty Association on September 18.

The lawsuit comes 10 days after Chang sent a Dec. 9 cease-and-desist letter to Superintendent Robert Haley demanding San Dieguito Union High School District immediately halt its current reopening plans, which it claims are the “wrong step at the wrong time” and a violation of state law, as previously reported by The Coast News.

A day after the school district issued a Dec. 13 statement denying the union’s claims, Chang submitted a second letter to Haley alerting him to the board’s “apparently mistaken understanding regarding the County Office of Education’s position on reopenings” and to “renew our demand that San Dieguito Union High School District cease and desist from unlawfully and unsafely reopening to general in-person instruction.”

The matter of resuming in-person instruction has been a lightning rod for spirited debate and protests in previous months.

On September 24, parents, teachers and students rallied against the district’s Sept. 17 decision to continue full-time distance learning through January 2021, demanding a return to in-person learning and improved communication between the school district and families. Many have expressed concerns over their children’s mental health after spending several months in quarantine isolated from their peers.

At the beginning of October, the district announced it would re-establish its expanded public reopening committee in response to protests.

More recently, approximately 30 students held a protest on Dec. 18 at Earl Warren Middle School in Solana Beach following the approved reopening plan and newly elected Trustee Mike Allman’s Dec. 15 remarks about the “value” of student board members’ concerns being “very near zero.”

“These are young kids and this is a serious topic,” Allman said. “To think that this board should place very much weight at all on what one individual or a couple of individual high schoolers think is a dereliction of our duty.”

Brown said he found Allman’s comments about students’ opinions bothersome and dismissive.

“I think Mr. Allman’s comment, in particular, is troubling how he disregards almost 13,00 students’ opinions,” Brown said. “The student board represents those five high schools and they do it very well.”

However, in November, Brown faced criticism of his own on social media after a hot mic appeared to capture him making a remark about a “stupid student thing” during a closed session (video link posted below).

On Dec. 17, Allman read a prepared statement which reads, in part: “I know most of you don’t know me, so I just want to say, I’m a very passionate man and I care very deeply about our students, staff and families.”

Since he was a candidate in November’s election, Allman has consistently advocated for students to return to campuses.

“Our children are not doing well in distance learning,” Allman told NBC7 in October. “I’ve heard of many terrible stories and we need to get our kids back into school. It’s time to give them the education they deserve.”

See videos of Allman’s and Brown’s remarks below: