San Dieguito parents, students protest over continuation of distance learning plans

SDUHSD protest
San Dieguito Union High School District parents and students called for the district to make a plan to get students back on their campuses.
(Luke Harold)

With frustrations mounting over distance learning, students and parents from the San Dieguito Union High School District staged a protest march Sept. 24 from the Encinitas Community and Senior Center to the district office.

“We, as a community, feel that the district leadership in the San Dieguito Union High School District has really failed us and our children,” said Karri Smith, who has two sons at Canyon Crest Academy and organized the protest.

She said she thinks the district could be doing more to “work on a plan that is creative, outside the box.”

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Smith said she would be supportive of a plan that allows children to return to their schools at least one day a week, with distance learning continuing for the other four days, and requires all students to wear masks.

“It’s just some sort of hope toward the future,” she said. “They’re providing the students with no hope.”

The district entered the school year with a plan to use distance learning through the first quarter. Only a limited number of students, such as special education students and English language learners, have been allowed to attend classes on campus.

On Sept. 17, the board voted 3-2 to extend the distance learning plan through the second quarter of the school year, citing public health orders that do not allow any more leeway for the district to expedite its plan to bring students back incrementally. SDUHSD Board Vice President Mo Muir and Clerk Melisse Mossy voted no.

In a Facebook group called SDUHSD Families for School Reopening, which has more than 1,200 members, many parents have said they’re worried about the excessive amounts of daily screen time and isolation that their children are experiencing from distance learning. Some of them described the academic difficulties their children have had.

SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley said via email that all schools are facing the same barriers as they abide by the various government mandates and guidelines.

“I understand and share the frustration with our situation and protesting is a way of expressing frustration,” he said. “Our focus is on implementing the actions taken by our Board of Trustees, therefore we are continuing to move forward bringing more students on our campuses as we progress through the first quarter.”

In an open letter to the school community, Haley and Beth Hergesheimer, the board’s president, said the district will be communicating with parents about efforts to increase student access to campuses.

“We know that distance learning is an interruption to how we teach our students and how they learn,” they said. “We know the toll this is taking on our families and communities. We know it is not ideal and we look forward to the day when we can return everyone to our campuses.

Jake Noble, a Torrey Pines High School senior and president of the school’s Associated Student Body, said he didn’t support the protest because it could create more confusion about the public health guidelines that district leaders are trying to follow.

Noble added that he wants the district to get back to in-person learning, but he also mostly supports the approach the district staff has taken. But, he continued, input from board members has not always been productive, based on his observations from watching board meetings.

“I think that there are a couple board members that are getting in the way of the superintendent and his team being most effective,” he said.