VISTA — After two meetings and nearly eight hours of discussion, the Vista Unified School District Board of Trustees voted 3-2 to delay making a formal decision on re-opening plans during its Dec. 17 meeting.
The board voted to hold a special meeting on Jan. 13.
Some parents in the district believe the board’s decision to reconvene on Jan. 13 is a decision to not allow schools to re-open, despite county evidence contrary to concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.
Trustees Rosemary Smithfield and Debbie Morton pleaded with the board to continue to follow the district’s plans of virtual and classic (in-person) models. They said the evidence of falling grades, declining mental health, lack of engagement and parents begging to allow their children back warrants schools to open.
“We’re dropping the ball for our kids,” Smithfield said. “I can’t ignore the phone calls of parents, crying, asking where to take their student. The parents know better than I do.”
Also, the district’s own survey showed an average of 76% of teachers rated the district’s personal protection equipment (PPE) and health and safety protocols at high or excellent levels. According to a report from KPBS, schools accounted for 12 outbreaks of COVID-19, according to the county’s data.
During the Dec. 15 meeting, Mary Trompeter-Ermis, president of the classified union, also requested the district re-open, stating virtual schooling is a job killer for custodians and support staff.
“Virtual learning is a threat to our jobs. Thousands have been laid off,” she said. The longer the students are not on campus, and the fewer of them that are there, the less that classified workers can do their job. It would be devastating to have hundreds of people to lose their jobs with nowhere to go. Schools are not super-spreaders of COVID-19.”
Board President Cipriano Vargas, Martha Alvarado and newly elected Trustee Julie Kelly all voted to push the meeting to Jan. 13. Alvarado and Kelly also sparred with Smithfield and Morton over the conditions.
Alvarado, who is a teacher, and Kelly said the rising number of COVID-19 cases, lack of ICU beds and potential for further community spread was their priority.
While the district has had a number of students test positive for COVID-19, contact tracing has not revealed any connection to the source being from a school, Smithfield said. Instead, those students were infected outside school grounds through club sports, gatherings and other social contacts, she added.
“I’m looking at community outbreaks,” Alvarado said. “There is less than 6 feet in classrooms with a bunch of teenagers who probably don’t realize they have COVID.”