Morning Report: A School Year Redo?

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Morning Report: A School Year Redo?

A teacher at Lafayette Elementary School works with students as San Diego Unified begins phase one of its reopening plan at elementary schools. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A lot of students have fallen behind during the pandemic — as many as 20 percent, according to some experts, will not have picked up the skills they need to move forward because of distance learning. That’s a huge problem when one considers that, especially in early grades, the basic concepts of math and reading build on themselves.

The big question is how to catch everyone up when they do finally get back in a classroom. Will Huntsberry writes that one way to remedy this disastrous school year is to do it over again.

It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is working on a bill giving students the right to a redo school year if they believe they need it. She doesn’t have hopes for its passage but is aiming instead to start a conversation.

“Nobody wants me to do this bill,” she said.

Some local education leaders, including the vice president of the San Diego Unified board, are openly hostile to the idea. They advocate instead for an infusion of cash for smaller class sizes and counselors who can help students get back on track. There are also logistical challenges.

In many ways, the pandemic has exposed how fraught and unstable our systems of collective well-being really are. 

This is the first piece in a series this week that’ll explore new ways of thinking in San Diego. 

We’re Hitting Pause on Voice of the Year

This is typically the time of year when we roll out a different package, our annual Voice of the Year list, where we set out to determine who provoked the biggest civic dialogues over the past year.

But because this year was dominated by two simultaneous, gargantuan crises that weren’t necessarily centered in San Diego – the pandemic and racial injustice – it felt disingenuous to zero in on local conversations. Local conversations still took place, sure, but the reality is they were dwarfed by outside forces.

“So, just as this wild and soul-crushing year has forced us to re-evaluate everything from the necessity of offices to how we conduct elections, we felt the conditions weren’t right to compile a Voice of the Year list at this moment,” VOSD’s managing editor Sara Libby wrote in her weekly column. “The hope is that things will return to normal enough next year that it will make sense to focus once again on the people leading local conversations on public transit, the border and more. Or, maybe things will take still more crazy twists and turns and will necessitate an approach we can’t even fathom right now.”

It’s a New Day in San Diego — Sorta

Jen Campbell is San Diego’s new City Council president. Normally the election is a snoozer, predetermined behind closed doors, but this one lasted nine hours from start to finish thanks to technical difficulties and hundreds of public commenters, most of whom phoned in their support for Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe. 

Although the councilmembers didn’t have much to say at the meeting last week, the campaign for the presidency was thrust into the open this year because of Montgomery Steppe and her supporters, which included the Democratic Party. And in the process, they forced different leaders and organizations to articulate what they wanted from local government going forward — itself a profound act of service. 

But a deeper problem emerged. Montgomery Steppe’s allies made clear they wanted a Council president who would prioritize criminal justice reform. Many of the same community members demanded officials shift resources away from the Police Department over the summer. 

Both times, the Council said no. They’re under no obligation to side with public commenters. 

“But it is hard to watch people pour their hearts out for hours and hours and know that it won’t change anything,” Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts write in the Politics Report. “It can’t be that every six months, a young and diverse group floods the Council with a policy demand, only to be quietly ignored.”

Former Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Barbara Bry is now leading a coalition to recall Campbell. She made her case to KUSI

Over on the podcast, the crew took stock of all the moving political parts that are setting the stage for the next City Council. Lewis also spoke to the official who oversaw the city’s COVID response and recovery. They talked about how the city’s approach to homeless has changed because of the pandemic. 

The State Legislature Is Back

Lawmakers were sworn in last week and began introducing new bills. Sara Libby and MacKenzie Elmer surveyed the first batch and report that San Diego has its eye on the pandemic, of course, but also housing and climate change. 

For example, both Assemblyman Chris Ward and Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath proposed state-sponsored efforts to support cities seeking to reduce greenhouse gases and address sea level rise on a regional scale. To fund some of the necessary instructure projects, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins revived a bill that died last session and would create a new grant program to address sea-level rise. 

In the meantime, Sen. Brian Jones, who’s expressed frustration over Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic-related powers, co-wrote a measure that would require any declaration of emergency to expire after 60 days.

Encinitas Maneuvers Around New Housing Law

Encinitas voted last week to amend its housing rules, so that net acreage is used to calculate the potential density on site rather than gross acreage. Officials argued that the state’s “one size fits all” approach to housing density doesn’t work for their city due to its hilly terrain and abundance of unusable land.

Other cities, like Carlsbad and Solana Beach, use net acreage in their calculations too. Gross acreage means the entire plot of land, including the areas that are not environmentally feasible to build on.

But the move, as VOSD intern Kara Grant writes, also excludes the city from a new state law — written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez — allowing developers to build more densely if they set aside more homes for low-income residents in their project.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear described the amendment as a practical revision, not an attempt to circumvent the construction of more affordable homes. A transit and housing advocate argued that Encinitas’ technical tweak provides developers with fewer incentives. 

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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