North County Report: New Parents Group Pushes School Reopenings

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North County Report: New Parents Group Pushes School Reopenings

Business owners are defying orders to close, hospitals delay major surgeries and more in our biweekly roundup of North County news.

San Dieguito Academy
San Dieguito Academy / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Before the holidays, I wrote about how some North County school leaders had tried to open or stay open for in-person learning amid pressure from parents, but faced backlash from teachers’ unions and because of crippling staff shortages. After a teacher’s union sued the San Dieguito Union School District in Encinitas, school leaders rescinded their plan to fully reopen this month.

In an email, Superintendent Robert Haley said district leaders are actively considering how they can move forward in the next quarter with increased general instruction based on guidance from the California Department of Public Health and San Diego County.

For now, the district is looking for ways to increase student access to campus in January to finish out the current quarter. Haley said the district is using indoor and outdoor spaces on campus while following the guidance to keep small groups safe and ensuring students who need social-emotional support get it.

There’s now a special request section on all school websites so parents and students can let the school know what their concerns are and what support they need, Haley said.

As closures at San Dieguito and other North County schools hold up, some parents in Carlsbad, Encinitas, San Marcos, Oceanside and Vista upset that their families still don’t have the choice to return to in-person learning have formed a group called Parent Association of North County San Diego. It’s intended to give parents a voice and a platform to advocate for what they believe are students’ best interests.

Ginny Merrifield, executive director of the group, told me that it formed as a result of concerns that the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated how politics and special interests, namely teachers’ unions, take precedence over the needs of children.

She said she believes most teachers are doing what they can to navigate the situation, but parents are impatient about schools reopening and are demanding transparency and accountability. Merrifield said parents are now opening their eyes to the power of local teachers’ unions, and she hasn’t seen enough leadership from them to work with districts to reopen schools.

“Now that a black box has opened up, parents are looking in and it’s kind of scary. Parents on one hand are feeling betrayed. I think there’s a loss of innocence in a way. Parents drop off their kids at kindergarten on day one until 12th grade and trust their schools. The pandemic has given us a loss of trust in the unions to not put students first,” she said.

North County Restaurants Defy Closure Orders

Over the holidays, some restaurant and small business owners in Encinitas, Carlsbad and other North County cities protested state orders to close their businesses in response to dwindling ICU capacities by continuing to serve customers who opt to dine-in.

Those restaurant owners have managed to remain open, but city council members in Carlsbad and Encinitas have sought other routes to enforce shutdowns.

Restaurants Carlsbad COVID
Business owners and supporters rally in support of local restaurants in Carlsbad that are openly defying state and county restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

In Encinitas, Mayor Catherine Blakespear has threatened to rescind permits that allowed businesses to offer outdoor dining in city sidewalks, streets and parking spots if a restaurant is caught breaking the rules. Some Encinitas businesses, like the Encinitas Café, have started to comply with the city’s order, Fox 5 reported Wednesday.

In Carlsbad, Councilwoman Cori Schumacher called for a special meeting Tuesday and proposed the city put stricter restrictions on dining and other businesses in defiance of the state and local public health orders. The Carlsbad City Council voted 2-2 against the proposal to consider more stringent enforcement policies on businesses that defy coronavirus safety protocols.  The Council did agree in a 4-1 vote to a comprehensive approach to educate and incentivize compliant businesses.

Even so, some restaurant owners are holding out and refusing to close their doors. In Carlsbad, Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant owner Belynn Gonzales told a Coast News reporter that she’ll stay open even if the Carlsbad City Council opts for more strict enforcement against businesses because she needs to provide for her employees.

Schumacher tweeted Wednesday her dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Council meeting.

“While I appreciate the comprehensive approach we will be pursuing, this does not solve … the short-term issue of those in willful violation of the public health order,” she wrote. “The outcome of tonight’s meeting sends the wrong message to those in willful violation of the public health order during a very critical moment in the COVID crisis — that we’re going to look the other way.”

What We’re Working On

  • Hospitals are delaying major surgeries and storing patients in emergency departments as ICUs fill up. In recent weeks the intensive care unit at UC San Diego Medical Center reached 109 percent capacity, VOSD’s Will Huntsberry reports.
  • The coronavirus pandemic will continue to impact the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries, shifting most hearings to an online-only platform and delaying the release of census data necessary to drawing new district maps, VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan reports.
  • VOSD’s Adriana Heldiz pulled together the most captivating photos from our team in 2020, including one of a farmworker and single mother who was struggling to support her family financially because of the pandemic and another of hundreds of surfers participating in a paddle-out event at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas to honor George Floyd.

In Other News

  • Medical professionals at the Palomar Medical Center in Escondido have begun seeing patients from hospitals with dwingding intensive care capacity and a surge of coronavirus patients. The temporary Federal Emergency Field Hospital is located on the 10th and 11th floors of the hospital. (NBC 7)
  • Oceanside is calling for more input on the city’s General Plan, which serves as a blueprint for future development, from eight communities that have been under-represented in the process. (Times of San Diego)
  • In Fallbrook, the Public Utility District elected its first woman president. (Coast News)
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