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La Jolla Cluster parents protest continued school closures

Parents and students from La Jolla Cluster schools protest ongoing SDUSD closures Feb. 18 outside Bird Rock Elementary.
Parents and students from the five La Jolla Cluster schools protest ongoing San Diego Unified School District closures Feb. 18 outside Bird Rock Elementary.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

La Jolla parents and students gather outside Bird Rock Elementary School to protest ongoing school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Includes video)

A large crowd of La Jolla parents and students gathered outside Bird Rock Elementary School the morning of Feb. 18 to protest ongoing school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The parents, whose children attend the five San Diego Unified School District sites in La Jolla, said they are frustrated that schools remain closed to regular in-person instruction without a firm date or criteria for reopening.

Wearing masks and carrying signs with messages such as “Vaccinate teachers, educate our kids; #reopensdusd,” “I need a classroom not a remote Zoom” and “Hear my voice; I need a choice,” the group of about 50 parents and as many children marched with a police escort from Bird Rock Elementary to La Jolla Boulevard via Colima Street.

They walked down La Jolla Boulevard chanting “Open our schools” and “No more Zoom” as passing motorists honked their car horns in support. They crossed the street at Carla Way and returned to the campus.

Asha Bleier, whose children attend Bird Rock Elementary, said “we’re here on behalf of all families districtwide,” noting that similar protests were happening concurrently at schools in Pacific Beach and Point Loma. “We just want those families throughout all the schools to be heard. We want a transparent plan” for reopening, she said.

SDUSD said last week that it will not reopen until coronavirus case rates in its school communities fall and vaccines are made available to all its school staff. The district did not release details of how low case rates need to be or if staff members need to have both vaccine doses and full vaccine effectiveness before the district will reopen schools.

San Diego Unified has said it will not reopen until coronavirus case rates in its school communities fall and vaccines are made available to all its school staff.

The district continues to “move the goal posts,” said Dana Gabriel, whose four children are spread across elementary, middle and high schools in the La Jolla Cluster. “Back in the fall when we didn’t even have a vaccine, they said they would open in phases, then [San Diego County] went to purple [tier],” the most restrictive designation in the state’s reopening framework that prevented schools from reopening if they hadn’t already opened.

About 100 people participated in a Feb. 18 protest in La Jolla against continued school closures.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

In October, SDUSD stated it would open upon the county moving to the less-restrictive red tier. Gabriel expressed worry that, given the district’s announcement that reopening is now contingent on school staff being vaccinated, “they will undoubtedly present another condition.”

Kelsey Martin, whose older child attends Bird Rock, helped organize the protest with other parents. She said the absence of a “concrete plan” concerns her. “There’s no ‘if this, then this.’ That’s what we want.”

In response to a commentary published in the La Jolla Light from SDUSD board President Richard Barrera that stated he is confident about a fall reopening for all students and hopeful for a spring return, Martin said, “That’s great that we’re committed to next fall, but it doesn’t mean anything considering all the commitments [the district has] been dodging since the beginning.”

Sharon Miller, whose son attends La Jolla High School, said “today’s public advocacy march is about getting students and teachers who are ready and want to be back in the classroom there as soon as possible. La Jolla Cluster schools have received the necessary masks, filtration and ventilation systems to ensure the safety of everyone on campus, and our infection case rate is substantially lower, so parents are asking the district to provide a back-to-school date as well as plans for teachers and students who choose to remain at home while others return to in-person learning.”

With preparations for improved ventilation and COVID-19 coronavirus testing, San Diego Unified School District representatives indicated that campuses are prepared to welcome students back following a pandemic-caused closure that so far has stretched seven months.

“We know that together we can achieve a safe return to school, just as many other communities around us have,” Miller said. “But in order to do so, we must have a definitive return date. … Providing a definitive return date will help generate positive momentum for the entire community.”

Dana Williams' children, London and Charley, who attend Bird Rock Elementary, protest continued online learning.
Dana Williams’ children, London and Charley, who attend Bird Rock Elementary School, protest against continued online learning Feb. 18. “School belongs in the classroom, not on Zoom,” Williams says.
(Courtesy of Dana Williams)

Dana Williams, whose children attend Bird Rock, said: “It’s time to get kids back in the classroom. I am an essential worker, as is my husband. We have both had to work through the pandemic, taking all necessary precautions. And where would we be if doctors and nurses refused to go to work? Why are teachers any different? Education is essential. Teachers are essential. School belongs in the classroom, not on Zoom.”

Barrera wrote in his commentary that “rather than getting bogged down in debates about whether educators need
to be vaccinated before returning to schools, we should respect the voices of our educators who are appropriately eager for the safety provided by vaccines and work together to accelerate the availability of vaccines to those we ask to educate our children.”

Bird Rock Elementary Principal Andi Frost said in a statement to the Light that “we have incredible parents at BRE. They care deeply about our kids, our community and our world. They are intent on supporting all of our kids. Reopening is something that they believe our students need and that they feel our community needs. As educators and parents, we share ... the desire to do what’s in the best interest of our children.”

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Kristen Taketa contributed to this report.