North County students protest ‘unsafe’ return of in-person instruction

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SAN DIEGO – Students in the San Dieguito Union High School District gathered Tuesday to protest what they say is an unsafe return to in-person learning next month.

“If I were to go back to school, it would be stressful because not only will I try to be focusing on learning, I’ll be focusing on trying to stay away from people,” student Emanuele Rimini said in the demonstration outside of Earl Warren Middle School.

On Tuesday, the district’s board held a closed meeting to discuss the reopening plan and pending litigation against it. Last week, the board approved a plan allowing students to return to classes in-person one day a week starting Jan. 4. It is expected to expand to five days a week on Jan. 27.

No action was taken during Tuesday’s session.

Board President Maureen Muir has ensured that safety measures will be implemented for students and staff upon their return to the physical classroom. She said the reopening plan follows the guidance of the state’s public health department.

But the California Teachers Association and the San Dieguito Faculty Association recently filed a lawsuit against the district and its board, alleging the plan violates the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.

According to the district’s website, the county’s chief resilience officer has assured leaders they can continue to “expand our reopening.”

A FOX 5 reporter was told the county’s resilience officer was not available to discuss the issue.

The California Teachers Association also issued a cease and desist letter demanding that San Diego County’s Chief Resilience Officer Gary Johnston correct the county’s guidelines to align with the state rule.

The San Diego County Office of Education, or SDCOE, sent an email to superintendents and school leaders last week stating in-part quote: “the County of San Diego has offered a local standard that appears to be inconsistent with the position taken by CDHP.”

The district stated on its website that it is not relying on advice from SDCOE for its reopening plan.

Jessica Mortensen, a teacher with the district, says distance learning has gone quite well for many of her students.

“I teach some AP classes and my students are outperforming last year,” Mortensen said.

However, the Parent Association of North County San Diego advocates for allowing students to return to campus, stating that thousands of students are struggling with distant learning.

“We think over half are not faring well under distance learning,” said Ginny Merrifield with the Parent Association of North County.

Like many teachers, Mortensen said she’s concerned for student safety, as well as her own, and a potential shortage of teachers able to return to school.

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