Education

Unaccountable San Diego Unified School Board members hide behind public health “expert” on school reopenings

On March 9, the San Diego Unified School Board held a public meeting, which of course was held by Zoom call.  Anyone from the public who wanted to speak or voice their concerns had to pre-register online who they were and what topic they wanted to discuss and were relegated to a one-minute speaking opportunity at the end of a 3-hour meeting.

While waiting for a chance to voice their opinions, members of the public had to listen to a series of propaganda videos and presentations praising the Superintendent and School Board members for their dedication and hard work for students and teachers.  Instead of listening to actual parents who were waiting online for their 1-minute opportunity to speak, they shared videos of hand-selected parents who were willing to echo the party line about how great the School Board was and how important the work is they are doing.

What was most striking was that the School Board and its literal army of well-compensated administrative staff and “experts” on hand to give these presentations is how isolated they are from the real world.  Much of the meeting was focused on the Covid-19 pandemic and the School District’s plans – or lack thereof – to allow students to return to the classrooms starting on April 12.

Staff gave long, laborious presentations about the site visits they are starting to do, walking through empty school facilities and talking to school principals, to review what might need to be done to help students social distance in the classroom.  They talked about a survey they created and started sending to parents to ask about their preferences for returning to the classrooms part time or in cohorts.  They talked about a review of safety protocols and things they could do to encourage hand washing and ensure reinforcement of masks and other PPE.  All I could think, listening to this, is “You’re just starting to do this now?!?!?”  Schools have been closed for over a year.  Schools across the US have been open either in part or in full since last Fall.  There have been oodles of studies and investigations across tens of thousands of schools across the US, as well as private schools in California, to evaluate best practices and determine how best to return to the classroom while keeping teachers and staff safe.  Why are they only starting that process at San Diego Unified now, and why are they reinventing the wheel rather than look at what almost every other school district in the country has been doing for at least 8 or 9 months?

Another example was their handling of the question about youth sports.  Indoor and outdoor sports were cleared for immediate restart as part of a settlement agreement with the state of California and the California Public Health Department.  The basis of the case was that there were mountains of evidence and dozens of studies showing that youth sports can resume safely and have been in 45 other states across the US.  However, San Diego Unified has decided to impose stricter restrictions on youth sports than the State or even other area school districts like Poway Unified.  San Diego Unified is not allowing their indoor gyms to reopen for indoor sports and is prohibiting parents from attending youth sports – even outdoors.

In response to public comments that (finally) were allowed to be heard, the Board deferred to their public health “expert”, Dr. Howard Taras at UCSD.  Taras said that it was his recommendation to the Board to restrict access to indoor gyms or to allow parents to attend outdoor games.  He offered no facts, no studies, no data or any other basis for his recommendation.  Rather he said he was “worried” that if indoor sports are allowed, or if parents attend games to watch their children, that it “could” lead to a new rise of new Covid-19 cases – and that would force the schools and sports to have to be closed again.

Dr. Taras’ “fears” are not supported or validated by any evidence or facts.  In fact they are in complete contradiction with the mountains of data, studies and reports from other infectious disease experts and epidemiologists – including the CDC and the California Department of Health.  Dr. Taras tipped his hand that his advice was based in politics, rather than science when he suggested that we should re-look at indoor sports and parent attendance at sports “after April 12”.  April 12 happens to be the target date for starting the return of some students to the classroom.  In other words, the Board is aware that it will be hard to justify why kids are still not in the classroom in March and the first of April if student athletes are competing in the gyms and parents are watching sports in the stands.

The elected School Board members, who are supposed to be accountable to the public and the voters, simply hid behind the skirts of their “expert” without facts.   Board Chairman Richard Barrera went so far as to thank him in the meeting for “being the one that is willing to be the bad guy and voice those concerns.”  San Diego parents and taxpayers need to decide if they are willing to allow the decisions affecting their kids to be delegated to unaccountable “experts” who ignore science and data to regurgitate the “recommendations” that simply reinforce the policy decisions that the Board wants to implement in the first place.