Students protest San Dieguito’s reopening plan

Canyon Crest Academy students organized a socially distanced protest against San Dieguito's reopening plan.

On Dec. 17, a group of San Dieguito Union High School District students protested for a safer reopening of their schools, sending a message that they want their voices heard and to ensure that their teachers are protected. The students held signs that read: “Keep us safe,” “We stand with our teachers”, “If you don’t act like adults we will” and “You can’t put kids first if you put teachers last.”

The protest was prompted by the board’s decision on Dec. 15 to expand the reopening of schools to five days a week on Jan. 27 and due to board member Michael Allman questioning the value of student input as they determine reopening plans.

During the board’s discussion of the district’s Jan. 4 return to one-day-a-week school, Allman had questioned why students would be scared of catching coronavirus, which prompted responses from the board’s Associated Student Body (ASB) representatives.

“We have a complete right to be scared about returning to school,” said Carrie Su, a student board representative from Canyon Crest Academy. “In going back to school we’re not only worrying about contracting the virus from perhaps our peers but also spreading it to our family and our community, some of whom have pre-existing health conditions.”

With the spike in cases, Carrie said the district should be working to provide more outlets for mental health and wellness by allowing extracurriculars and clubs to meet on campus rather than bringing all teachers back and a portion of the student body. She said she was speaking on behalf of her fellow students that don’t feel comfortable returning back to school under the current guidelines.

Allman said he wanted to have a discussion on the value of the ASB students’ opinions.

“I think the value that they provided in what we have to decide is 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 or a couple individual high schoolers said, I think is a dereliction of our duty.”

Trustee Katrina Young disagreed with Allman’s statement that their value was “zero”, noting that the student board representative’s job is to gather consensus from their schools and bring input to the board.

Students protested the district's reopening plans.

“I would say that their value is just as much as ours if not more. We serve to educate and protect and guide them and if we don’t put their needs and their opinions above ours then we’re not doing our job,” Young said. “I would say the opposite. I would say they have all the value in the world.”

SDUHSD President Mo Muir said the board has heard a lot of different opinions from students and she wants to weigh everyone’s voice equally.

Students watching the meeting were upset by Allman’s comments and reacted by organizing a socially distanced protest at Earl Warren Middle School on Dec. 17, before the board’s continued meeting. On short notice with a only a day to organize, Canyon Crest Academy students Andrea Gately, Omid Fouladpouri, Emanuele Rimini, Irene Chung, Joshua Charat-Collins and Andrew Gao put together the protest.

They marked out six feet of distance with tape on the ground and made sure everyone who was able to attend wore masks. About 35 students were in attendance, holding signs and chanting when board members arrived for the meeting.

“It was important that the people’s voices were heard on this topic. We did not want to let what he said to be ignored,” Omid said. “Our goal was to show that many students actually care about this.”

One of the signs read: “Your empathy and compassion are near zero.”

In addition to the protest, the students also submitted a letter to the board about their concerns with the district’s reopening plan and the disrespect they feel has been shown to their teachers. In the letter, students requested that the board delay reopening and push the potential first day of in-person school back to no earlier than Jan. 27, 2021.

“Going back on Jan. 4 would throw teachers and students together at the height of the pandemic,” the students wrote. “Jan. 27 not only allows California the time it needs to exit the purple tier, but will give the board, teachers, and students the time they need to formulate a safe, agreed-upon plan.”

The students said they are concerned about the availability of substitute teachers and the quality of those substitutes in high-level AP classes.

“Even an excellent student can only go so far without an equally amazing teacher,” Emanuele said.

The students said that teachers are the “backbone of the district” and for the past nine months, have completely altered their way of teaching in order to adapt to distance learning and have done everything in their power to stay connected with students.

Andrea said to change course now threatens to disrupt students’ learning instead of preserving its consistency. The students are worried about classroom spaces that will only have six feet of distancing as practical—with the plan’s set minimum of three feet of distance. (Per the plan, teacher work stations are required to be six feet apart from student desks.)

“The argument for reopening is that it will improve the mental health of students. As a student, it will absolutely not improve our mental states. We will sit in almost empty classes, attending our Google Meets with headphones on and we will not be allowed to socialize during breaks,” said Andrea. “The last thing we students want is to put our teachers in danger. The choice they face between unpaid leave and the risk of exposure is not a fair one.”

With the protest, the students said they were putting into action what they have taught in school: to defend what is right and that change can happen when people speak up for what they believe in.

“They cannot ignore us and they can’t shut us down,” Irene said.

At the Dec. 17 meeting, Allman offered an apology for his previous comments.

“I’m not perfect and my words don’t always come out with the meaning that I intend but I value every single person in our district,” Allman said, reading a prepared statement.

A CCA student protesting.

He said over the past few months he has heard from hundreds of students and families and their “heart- wrenching” stories about struggling in distance learning moved him to action to bringing more students back to school.

“Although our board is currently divided on this issue, I am certain that Katrina and Kristin believe that they are doing the right thing just as I do. The success of our district depends on us being able to offer choices and a path forward. We can not ignore the needs of a sizable number of our students who want the choice to return to school,” Allman said. “At the same time I support providing teachers who have a medical necessity the choice to teach remotely. I believe we can work together and I’m committed to being forthright and honest in my efforts to make the school district the best it can be.”